Smart Transport

The future of mass transit services: The bus

Bus passenger numbers have been falling for decades, but not everywhere – and the humble bus still accounts for 58% of all public transport journeys. Broadcaster and writer Paul Clifton assesses what the future holds.

The Government has launched what it calls “a revolution in bus services” with a multi-billion pound package.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson says it will deliver at least 4,000 new zero-emission buses, higher frequency services and simpler fares. 

He promised £5 billion “to overhaul bus and cycle links for every region outside London”.

The Department for Transport (DfT) says the money represents a five-year funding package. 

The announcement follows an allocation of £170 million in February to support more electric buses, which, in turn, was part of a funding announcement of £220m last September to improve the bus network in England. 

All new road investments in England which receive central funding will be required to either support bus priority measures, or be required to explain why doing so would be inappropriate. 

The Government is also seeking expressions of interest for developing an all-electric bus town or city.

This would see an entire fleet changed to zero-emission capable buses. 

Ask any transport professional about the future of public transport, and they will always say that the bus will continue to be at the core of daily commuting. 

Urban traffic congestion remains a great issue for bus companies.

The commercial bus industry will “cease to exist” if nothing is done to tackle traffic jams, warned David Brown, chief executive of Go Ahead. 

Sure, the vehicle and its power source will change. But a road-based mass transit system carrying people from where they live to where they work, shop and socialise will be here for decades to come. 

Yet bus travel in Britain, excluding London, sank to the lowest point on record in 2018-19.

At the same time, fares rose by an average of 3.3%.

Last year, the Local Government Association warned that nearly half the remaining supported bus routes in England are at risk of being scrapped. 

Part of the reason for the falling patronage is a declining number of trips per person due to people consuming entertainment at home rather than going out plus flexible jobs enabling home-working. 

Funding cuts is less of an issue in London, where bus operators face different challenges – again not necessarily ones which have a negative impact on city objectives to improve air quality and reduce congestion.

“In central London there has been a huge increase in other forms of transport,” explains Gareth Powell, managing director of surface transport at Transport for London (TfL). 

“Much more capacity on the Tube has allowed people to use it who would otherwise have been on a bus. And there’s been a big increase in walking and cycling.”

The Bus Services Act 2017 provides metropolitan mayors with the powers to franchise bus operations, a method similar to the model London has used since 2000.

They can define routes, set fares, frequencies and quality standards. 

However, the Confederation of Passenger Transport warns that a nationwide rollout of bus franchising threatens the finances of operators. 

Read the full article on The future of mass transit services: The bus from the Smart Transport Journal


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