New report reveals that traditional bus markets are declining but new ones, such as ‘Millennial Bus Man’, offer a fresh long-term focus for revival

The report finds that while traditional bus markets are in decline, new ones are emerging among millennials

A new report by the Independent Transport Commission uncovers major changes in travel behaviour across the bus market in England over the past decade.

Against a backdrop of falling overall bus usage in spite of significant population growth, the report shows that the traditional core market for the bus has been shrinking. Today’s bus travel is shaped around a smaller number of higher-intensity users, with each passenger outside London making 5% more journeys than in 2009.

The report, The shape of changing bus demand in England, authored by leading transport experts Dr Scott Le Vine and Emeritus Professor Peter White, uses National Travel Survey data to explore what has been happening to bus travel demand in England since 2009, and investigates how the bus market has been changing.

The report finds that while traditional bus markets are in decline, new ones are emerging among millennials – offering a fresh long-term focus for the revival of the bus industry. Men aged 17-39 are “the bus industry’s untold success story”. They are the only age/gender cohort to have increased their miles travelled by bus between 2009/11 and 2015/17. Miles per person per year within this “Millennial Man” group rose by 5% (see table).

The main findings

  • Outside London, the number of annual bus journeys in England fell by 15% over the period;
  • The proportion of the population who are ‘bus users’ has declined from 21% to 18%, the opposite of rail where a greater percentage of the population is travelling by rail;
  • The remaining ‘bus users’ are using the bus more intensely, making 5% more journeys;
  • Overall, bus travel by women has fallen by 15% and men by 6%;
  • The highest rates of bus journeys are by people between ages 17 and 20, particularly females;
  • Men aged between 17 and 39 made 14% more trips than in 2009;
  • Traditional bus ‘core’ markets – the unemployed, students, non-car owners, low personal income (less than £5,000) – fell by 15%, 10%, 10% and 13% respectively;
  • Usage has fallen most steeply in the lowest income groups, due to increased car ownership;
  • Nationally, there is “no strong evidence” of lost market share to private hire services (such as Uber) and taxis.
  • Of all journey purposes by bus, shopping has fallen the most, due to online shopping and the decline of the high street;
  • Local bus shopping trips have declined by 25% since 2009, compared with shopping trips by all modes decreasing by 5%;
  • Low-density rural counties (Lincolnshire, Yorkshire) and historic industrial areas (Stoke, Middlesbrough) are the areas with the strongest decline in bus usage. But much of southern England, including low-density locations (West Berkshire, Cornwall) and urban areas where bus usage was already high (Reading, Bristol, Brighton), have seen growth.

Commenting on the report, ITC patron Sir Peter Hendy, chairman of Network Rail, said: “The findings are extremely timely as the government prepares to launch the National Bus Strategy, combined with a renewed fiscal settlement at the Budget focused on non-London areas, green technology and public transport.”

This article appears in the latest issue of Passenger Transport

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