Group’s research shows ‘cause for optimism’ in prospects for buses, despite nearly a decade of patronage declines. But policy interventions are needed



Stagecoach has called on central and local government to work with its companies to capitalise on a “huge opportunity” to combat road congestion and improve air quality by growing bus use.

In the presentation of its full-year results, published last week, Stagecoach revealed research in several major cities which it said showed potential “cause for optimism” in the industry’s prospects, despite nearly a decade of patronage declines.

Analysis of 15 economic, demographic and lifestyle factors influencing changes in bus use showed the overwhelming reasons for patronage falls were congestion and rising car ownership. In Greater Manchester, where annual bus patronage fell from 205.9 million trips in 2011/12 to 201.4 million in 2016/17, these two factors accounted for a loss of 15 million annual journeys by the end of the period, more than offsetting actions which had a positive influence on ridership such as bus fares and bus quality.

Stagecoach argued that the relative success in stemming patronage declines, despite the impact of congestion and higher car ownership, demonstrated that it could have a major role in supporting the government’s agenda to improve air quality and congestion if pro-public transport policies are introduced.

We would welcome more proactive policy interventions to encourage mass transit use and reduce car use to address these increasing problems

Chief executive Martin Griffiths said: “Mass transit, including buses, can help mitigate the risk of population growth in urban areas contributing to worsening road congestion and air quality challenges… We would welcome more proactive policy interventions to encourage mass transit use and reduce car use to address these increasing problems.”

At the same time, Stagecoach said it would be bringing together new and existing initiatives from across its UK bus businesses “to respond to changing demand for travel driven by evolving work and social patterns, as well as capitalising on opportunities for growth through technology, more effective marketing and product development”.

While Stagecoach’s research showed factors such as online shopping, more flexible working and emerging competition from new taxi businesses are having a relatively small impact on patronage at present, the company’s emerging business strategy is designed to protect its core position and exploit changing trends.

Actions being developed include:

  • A revised Stagecoach brand strategy to build on its position as a mass transit provider in major cities;
  • Simpler pricing and ticketing;
  • Enhanced app functionality and delivery of real time journey information;
  • Evaluation of opportunities for more demand responsive services;
  • Plans for the UK’s first pilot of autonomous vehicle technology on a standard bus, to be announced within the next two weeks;
  • Creating a more agile and entrepreneurial culture at local operating companies, supported by a complementary recruitment strategy;
  • Closer integration of bus and rail;
  • Improved engagement with customers and understanding of existing users and non-users.

This article appears in the latest issue of Passenger Transport.

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