The announcement by the Chancellor of an imminent National Bus Strategy is arguably the first strategic steer for bus policy since buses were deregulated over 30 years ago. It doesn’t come a moment too soon. Buses are responsible for three in every five journeys made by public transport, carrying millions of people to school and work, shops, doctors’ surgeries and social activities. And yet while national strategies are in place to support rail and roads, walking and cycling, no such strategy exists for buses which have instead been left with dwindling funding, service cuts and rising fares.
The announcement marks the culmination of years of work by Campaign for Better Transport and others. But what should a National Bus Strategy look like? In our report, The future of the bus, we call for it to focus on:
- Increasing the use of bus services across the country
- Better integration of buses with other transport
- A clear route to zero emission buses
- Growth in use of technology to improve services
There are plenty of things the Government can do to achieve these aims. The current funding regime for buses is fragmented and short term. It should be replaced with a more coherent approach that brings together all public sector spending on buses, including from the Bus Service Operators’ Grant, concessionary travel, NHS patient transport, school transport and social services.
There is a pressing need to accelerate the move to zero emission vehicles. The National Bus Strategy should include a plan for all new buses to be zero-emission by 2025, and all buses on the road to be electric or hydrogen by 2035. To support this, Government should put in place a bus manufacturing sector deal to make the UK a world leader in zero emission buses.
We also need a programme of investment in physical and digital infrastructure to make bus travel attractive and convenient. We want to see a new generation of modal interchanges connecting bus networks with other forms of transport. And we need multi-modal ticketing, contactless payment and integrated journey planning so passengers can plan and make journeys with less effort.
Bus fares have risen 61 per cent since 2009 – significantly faster than rail (50 per cent) and motoring (35 per cent). Other recommendations in our report include measures to make bus travel cheaper, including targeted support from Government to reduce fares for young people and a local trial of free or reduced price travel.
Buses are at a crossroads. The stories we hear daily of the impact of service cuts – the older lady unable to visit her husband in his care home, the teenager barred from her beloved youth orchestra, the guide dog owner at risk of losing his independence – leave no doubt as to which direction we should turn. We will work to ensure that the National Bus Strategy contains the right fiscal and policy interventions to steer the Great British bus on the road to a brighter future.
About the Author
This post was written by Darren Shirley. Chief Executive, Campaign for Better Transport