Smart Transport

Could a National Bus Strategy give buses a brighter future?

Funding reforms and better integration with other forms of transport will help to re-establish the importance of the Great British bus, says Darren Shirley, chief executive of Campaign for Better Transport.

The need for action to connect communities, reduce air pollution and meet net zero emissions targets has never been greater, and, while large infrastructure projects will play an important role, arguably more pressing is the need to improve everyday transport.

Central to this will be the humble bus. The historic lack of strategic steer for our most-used form of public transport has contributed to dwindling services and rising fares, leaving non-drivers in many communities isolated and excluded. 

But this could soon change: with £5 billion of new funding for buses and cycling announced by the Government and a long-awaited National Bus Strategy in the offing, there’s a chance to set buses on the road to a brighter future.

Our 2019 research showed that funding for buses is almost £400 million a year lower than it was a decade ago.

The result has been that well over 3,000 local authority supported bus services have been lost or reduced in a decade; 243 in the past year alone.

Clearly the National Bus Strategy and long-term funding can’t come a moment too soon for cut-off communities, or for passengers struggling with the 60% rise in the average bus fare over a decade. 

But what should the strategy include? The Campaign for Better Transport report, The Future of the Bus, future funding arrangements calls for the focus to be 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 is plenty the Government can do to achieve these aims. Funding for buses, which is currently fragmented, short-term and sorely ineffective, must be reformed. 

Nationally, buses are funded via the Bus Service Operators Grant (a fuel duty rebate) and the English National Concessionary Travel Scheme (which sees government funding for journeys made by older and disabled bus pass holders).

Both are flawed and have proven insufficient to ensure communities have the bus services they need.

The current funding regime should be replaced with a single, ring-fenced, long-term framework aimed at growing bus networks and delivering social, economic and environmental benefits. 

The billions for buses and cycling over the next five years announced by the Prime Minister recently is a significant step in the right direction, but, as yet, there are no details of how this fund will be allocated. 

Of course, cuts to funding are one side of a vicious cycle: buses that are poorly funded and infrequent struggle to attract passengers, and dwindling passenger numbers make services harder to fund.

That’s why the National Bus Strategy must focus squarely on increasing the use of bus services across the country, and for this to happen buses need to be a ‘no-brainer’ for more journeys. 

Read Darren Shirley's full opinion on a National Bus Strategy.



Comment as guest

Login  /  Register


No comments have been made yet.

Office Address
  • Smart Transport
    Media House
    Lynch Wood
    PE2 6EA
Join the community
  • Smart Transport is the UK's most important brand to bring together senior public policy makers and influential private sector leaders to showcase real-time solutions aligned to government policy.
  • Find out more
  • Insight


Welcome to Smart Transport

Welcome to the Smart Transport website, keeping you up-to-date with the latest news, insight and reports from policymakers and thought leaders.

The Smart Transport brand connects policy to solutions by bringing national government and local authority policymakers together with private sector organisations.

Contact Lindsay Greatbatch for more information.

© Bauer Consumer Media Ltd
Media House, Lynch Wood, Peterborough, PE2 6EA - Registered number 01176085 IPSO regulated logo


Smart Transport members

Smart Transport board members


Please note:
By submitting any material to us you are confirming that the material is your own original work or that you have permission from the copyright owner to use the material and to authorise Bauer Consumer Media to use it as described in this paragraph. You also promise that you have permission from anyone featured or
referred to in the submitted material to it being used by Bauer Consumer Media. If Bauer Consumer Media receives a claim from a copyright owner or a person
featured in any material you have sent us, we will inform that person that you have granted us permission to use the relevant material and you will be responsible for paying any amounts due to the copyright owner or featured person and/or for reimbursing Bauer Consumer Media for any losses it has suffered as a result.