The Government has launched a £3 billion national bus strategy for England, which includes a move to franchising, ticketing reform, and hundreds of miles of new bus lanes.
The new bus strategy reaffirms the Government’s commitment to transition cities and regions across England to emission-free buses with the promise of 4,000 new British-built electric or hydrogen buses, as stated in the 10 point plan.
The Government has also launched a consultation on ending the sale of new diesel buses.
To encourage more people to use the bus rather than the car, the new bus strategy says that simpler bus fares with daily price caps will be introduced so that people can use the bus as many times a day as they need without facing increased costs.
Integrated services and ticketing across all transport modes to allow people to move from bus to train will also be introduced.
Contactless payments will be accepted on all buses and there will be more services in the evenings and at the weekends.
The Government intends to launch a consultation on new regulations to improve access on board buses for wheelchair users and it will be requiring ‘next stop’ announcements on board buses throughout Great Britain to help disabled passengers.
Alongside the publication of the bus strategy, the Government has announced the recipients of its £20 million ‘Rural mobility fund’, which enables on-demand services – such as minibuses booked via an app – to be trialled in areas where a traditional bus service isn’t appropriate.
“Enhanced partnership” between local authorities and operators
The Government intends to end the “fragmented, fully commercialised market”, which has operated outside London since 1986.
Instead, it wants to see operators and local councils enter into a statutory “enhanced partnership” or franchising agreements to receive the new funding and deliver the improvements.
It expects that many councils will choose enhanced partnerships, where local authorities work closely with bus companies, drawing on their operating knowledge and marketing skills.
The Government also wants to see local authorities and operators working together to deliver bus services that are so frequent that passengers can just ‘turn up and go’ – no longer needing to rely on a traditional timetable and having the confidence they won’t wait more than a few minutes.
From this summer, only services under the enhanced partnership arrangements will be eligible for continued support or any new sources of funding from the £3bn transformational investment.
A consultation will be held later this year on reforming the Bus Service Operators Grant, the current main stream of Government bus funding.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “Buses are lifelines and liberators, connecting people to jobs they couldn’t otherwise take, driving pensioners and young people to see their friends, sustaining town centres and protecting the environment.
“As we build back from the pandemic, better buses will be one of our first acts of levelling-up.
“Just as they did in London, our reforms will make buses the transport of choice, reducing the number of car journeys and improving quality of life for millions.”
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps added: “Buses are this country’s favourite way of getting around. They help us get to school, to the GP, or to the shops – but services across England are patchy, and it’s frankly not good enough.
“The quality of bus service you receive shouldn’t be dependent on where you live. Everyone deserves to have access to cheap, reliable and quick bus journeys.
“The strategy we’re unveiling today will completely overhaul services, ensuring we build back better from the pandemic. Key to it is the new deal it offers to councils – we will provide unprecedented funding, but we need councils to work closely with operators, and the Government, to develop the services of the future.”
Anthony Smith, chief executive of independent watchdog Transport Focus, said: “For bus passengers, today’s announcement of more frequent buses and simpler fares will be welcome news.
“For many, buses are a lifeline to employment, education, medical appointments and leisure, and are essential to the economy.
“We know that the key priorities for those considering using the bus are more services running more reliably, providing better value.
“Since the pandemic, safety and cleanliness have become ever more important. We will work with bus operators and other partners to make sure passengers’ needs are at the heart of new arrangements.”
Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands, welcomed the new bus strategy.
“It will enable big city regions such as ours to ensure buses remain at the heart of our future transport plans,” he said.
“Residents here want clean, decarbonised buses that are affordable and continue to remain reliable and punctual, and that’s what the new strategy laid out today will deliver.”
David Brown, chief executive of Go-Ahead Group, said that it was “the right time to have a national strategy for buses”.
He said: “Bus usage has been falling for seven years and if Britain is serious about becoming a carbon neutral nation, we urgently need to halt that decline and persuade people to leave their cars at home.
“In order to do that, buses need to be quick, reliable and convenient. That means giving more bus priority including precedence for buses at traffic lights and tackling rush hour gridlock.
“People with easy access to public transport have more chance of getting a job, and are much less likely to be socially isolated and lonely. By working in partnership with local authorities, private companies can respond to demand effectively, delivering better services for all.
“A full double-decker bus can take as many as 75 private cars off the road, so the benefits of buses in cutting pollution and reducing traffic jams are as clear as daylight.
“As a nation, we need to finally move on from the myth that bus use is only for those who can’t afford a car.”
First Bus, which has committed to having a zero-emission bus fleet by 2035 and not purchasing any new diesel buses after December 2022, welcomed the “opportunities demonstrated in the national bus strategy to accelerate the transition to zero emissions”.
Managing director Janette Bell also welcomed the ‘enhanced partnership approach’.
“Across the UK, we already work closely and effectively with local authorities and the enhanced partnership approach will enable us to build on these strong local relationships as we move toward recovery and work to improve customer experience,” she said.