Transport Select Committee seeks action to end decline

 

 

MPs have called on the government to develop and adopt a bus strategy for England by the end of next year. Members of the House of Commons Transport Select Committee concluded that such a bus strategy was neccessary in their report, Bus Services in England outside London, which was published last week.

“A bus strategy would help the government arrest the current decline [in bus use] by setting out a clear plan of the government’s ambitions for bus use, and how it will support local authorities to improve local bus services and increase bus ridership,” the reports states. “Any strategy must be passenger focused but should also address the reasons why people choose not to use buses and what changes are needed to encourage them to make a different travel choice from the one they make at present.”

The strategy should include:

  • the government’s ambitions for increasing bus ridership;
  • a commitment to making the full suite of operating models, including franchising, available to all local authorities, and guidance on how different bus operating models can be used most effectively and implemented quickly with a minimum of bureaucratic impediments;
  • a more stable multi-year funding model for local transport, including bus services, and a clear strategy for and details of how to access any secured funding;
  • an assessment of the evidence for the effectiveness of bus priority measures across England, and guidance on how best to implement these measures; and
  • specific targets for modal shift, and actions to encourage people to switch to the bus.

In its response to its report the committee wants the government to lay out a clear timescale for the development of this strategy.The MPs suggest that it could be underpinned by a national forum involving representatives from bus operators, trade unions and other stakeholders.

The call for a bus strategy echos growing support for the idea within the bus sector. Pro-bus lobby group Greener Journeys has made a national bus strategy a centrepiece of its campaigning in 2019 and its CEO, Claire Haigh, welcomed the Transport Select Committee’s support for the idea.

A strategy for buses, aligned with a more stable multi-year funding regime, will help local decision makers to maximise the wider benefits of buses

“A strategy for buses, aligned with a more stable multi-year funding regime, will help local decision makers to maximise the wider benefits of buses,” said Haigh. “A 10% improvement in bus service connectivity can deliver a 3.6% reduction in social deprivation. Every £1 invested in bus infrastructure can deliver up to £8 of wider benefits for local economies.   

“We also strongly agree with the Transport Select Committee that the strategy should include targets for modal switch from car to bus. A model diesel bus produces fewer harmful NOx emissions overall than a modern diesel car despite having 20 times the carrying capacity. Targets for modal switch will help to ensure that buses are, as they should be, right at the heart of plans to improve air quality, reduce carbon emissions and tackle congestion.”

The call for a national bus strategy was also welcomed by the Confederation of Passenger Transport, which represents the bus and coach industry.

“An agreed strategy with clear targets for growth, a stable, long term approach to funding and an evidence-based approach to tackling congestion – the biggest single barrier to bus travel – is essential to making the most of the huge potential of the bus,” said CPT’s new chief executive, Graham Vidler.

“Delivering high quality bus services is a shared responsibility and a national strategy can provide a sound basis for government, operators and local authorities to work together to make bus travel even more attractive to passengers, reduce congestion and improve our environment.”

 

KEY RECOMMENDATIONS:

Delivering bus services

  • The full suite of bus service operating models, including franchising, should be available to all local authorities, without going through the secretary of state.
  • All local authorities should have the option of creating a municipal bus company.

Funding of bus services

  • The government should bring forward a more stable multi-year funding model for local transport, including bus services, by the summer of 2020.
  • Later this year, the government should set out a plan for how Bus Service Operators Grant will operate, what it is intended to achieve and how it will be reformed to achieve these aims.
  • The government should review how it finances concessionary bus passes, and the guidance to local authorities on reimbursement of bus operators. The government should define socially necessary services by the end of this year and review the financial ability of local authorities to fund them.

Barriers to travel

  • The government should set targets for modal shift to meet the policy outcomes of cleaner air for towns and cities. The government should review the effectiveness of bus priority measures across England, with a view to demonstrating their value.

A bus strategy

  • The government should set develop and adopt a bus strategy by the end of 2020.

 
This article appears in the latest issue of Passenger Transport.

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