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Government must set out bus strategy to halt decline in bus use

22 May 2019

A lack of co-ordinated Government policy and squeezed funding for local authorities is driving bus use into decline, says the Transport Committee.

Clear ambitions for bus use needed from Government

Most parts of England saw bus use fall and hundreds of bus routes have been withdrawn. Although nearly three in every five journeys by public transport in Great Britain were by bus in 2017/18 and buses remain the most popular form of public transport, today's Report paints a picture of steady decline amid uncoordinated, fragmented government policy and squeezed funding for local authorities.

The Committee urges the Government to set out clear ambitions for bus use and specific plans for how it will support local authorities to improve bus services and increase passenger numbers. A single bus strategy, as for rail and road investment, would give a focus to funding, planning and work to improve air quality.

Funding for buses mainly comes through passengers but the Government, through a variety of mechanisms, provides more than 40 percent of bus funding. The Government has long term plans in place for road and rail investment but funding of bus services is uncertain and requires reform. Given the scale of investment from passengers and taxpayers, the Committee calls for a fairer deal for the bus user, demonstrating value for money and reflecting passengers' needs.

Chair's comments

The Chair of the Transport Committee, Lilian Greenwood MP, said: 

“More than three thousand bus routes in England have been reduced, altered or withdrawn since 2010/11. The numbers using bus services are falling. This has direct consequences on people's lives, impacting on journeys to work, education and social events. It narrows our transport options and pushes us towards less environmentally-friendly choices. And yet, our inquiry found no real evidence that the Government was determined to take action to stop this.

“Transport groups told us that passengers want simple and accurate information on ticketing and fares and reliable services that turn up on time and get you where you need to go. We heard a real desire to reduce congestion and to improve air quality. Local authorities and bus operators want to work together, whether to understand local traffic to better use bus priority measures, enforce moving traffic violations, or plan for new housing developments.

“The Government has strategies on rail investment and road development; it is now time to bring forward a strategy for bus services outside London. Core to the strategy should be the desire to make bus services more passenger focused and provide value for money, helping to bring more people, especially young people, onboard. This will also bring benefits for air quality, cutting carbon emissions and reducing congestion.

“The Department for Transport has a key role in supporting local authorities and bus operators but it needs to ensure its efforts are pulled together under a single strategy which sets out its ambition for bus services, still England's most popular form of transport. Concessionary fares are obviously important in making public transport affordable and our Committee hopes to assist by exploring this area in more detail later this year.”

Bus strategy needed

The Committee calls on Government to bring forward a national bus strategy by the end of 2020. This should:

  • Set out plans for making the full suite of operating models, including franchising and the ability to create new municipal bus companies, available equally to all local authorities with guidance on each;
  • Describe a more stable multi-year funding model for local transport, including bus services, with clear strategy and details of bid-for funding;
  • Assess the evidence for the effectiveness of bus priority measures and provide information on good practice;
  • Set and track targets for modal shift and provide a framework to provide guidance for local authorities to encourage people to get out of their cars and onto buses.

Further information

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