Go-Ahead chief executive calls for government to back Britain’s buses


David Brown, the chief executive of The Go-Ahead Group, has called on the government to launch a three-point plan to put the bus at the centre of planning for a green, post-Covid Britain.

In an article for the Red Box column in The Times, Brown said the bus industry was at a crossroads and that public messaging to avoid public transport has meant confidence in using buses has fallen despite the vital role they play.

“We know the challenge we face to encourage people back on to the bus,” wrote Brown. “That’s why we have increased the ‘deep cleaning’ of our vehicles, given clear advice on hygiene and encouraged customers to pay by app or contactless. We’re supporting the government’s requirement for everyone to use a face mask on public transport.”

He said that the environmental benefits of using the bus are well known and they can play a significant part in taking cars off the road and reducing congestion.

Brown continued: “All this hasn’t changed. And I truly believe that now, more than ever, the government must put public transport at the heart of the nation’s plan for a post-Covid future.

“The lockdown has changed lives dramatically, but the improvements in the environment around us have been notable. The International Energy Agency forecast carbon emissions will fall by 8% this year.

“After a period where families reclaimed roads as their own, increasing cycling, walking, even skateboarding, do we really want to return to a world of traffic jams? That is what could happen – and the signs are already there.”

Do we really want to return to a world of traffic jams? That is what could happen – and the signs are already there.

With official figures suggesting car use is already back to two-thirds of pre-lockdown level, placing restriction on public transport could put extra cars on the road. Brown added that he wanted to see social distancing guidelines slashed, a move that would enable at least half the seats on a bus to be used.

He also called for a three-point plan back by “every level of government”:

  • Firstly, for Number 10 to move away from the “avoid public transport” message and emphasise how using the bus supports the campaign to restart the economy;
  • Secondly, the government must press ahead with a national bus strategy that lays the foundation for a revolution in public transport and actively promotes the benefits of bus journeys; and
  • Thirdly, some of the £3bn promised for the bus industry earlier this year by the government should be used to speed up the deployment of hydrogen and electric buses as part of an integrated government plan. Brown added the government could require operators to purchase these vehicles from British manufacturers to help revive the economy.

“Air pollution, remember, is estimated to cause 40,000 premature deaths a year,” he concluded. “If we don’t act, we risk coming out of coronavirus and heading straight in to another health crisis of our own making.

“Let’s give our towns and cities a chance to breathe. And back the bus.”

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