Written evidence submitted by the Green Alliance (BUS0028)

About Green Alliance

Green Alliance is an independent think tank and charity focused on ambitious leadership for the environment. Our work crosses climate, the natural environment and resource use. Since 1979, we have been working with the most influential leaders in business, NGOs and politics to accelerate political action and create transformative policy for a green and prosperous UK.

Summary

Fifty seven per cent of all public transport journeys taken in the UK are made on buses, with 4.5 billion local bus passenger journeys in the year 2019/2020. Buses are particularly vital to those without access to private cars who tend to be younger, older, disabled people and those on low incomes. As such, their continued funding through the pandemic was vital, however, the lack of clarity about future funding for bus services is impacting services’ ability to operate optimally. If this funding is not continued, it will expose a funding gap of billions undermining the government’s levelling up agenda and efforts to maintain bus services throughout the pandemic. If not rectified, this lack of funding will lead to long term deterioration of crucial bus services in towns and cities across England (outside of London).

Response

  1. The challenges facing the sector as it recovers from the pandemic and the effectiveness of steps taken by both Government and stakeholders in response

Government funding throughout the pandemic to support bus services was welcome and was successful in keeping the majority of services operational.

However, reduced patronage has left a gap in bus operators revenue forcing them to reduce services, meaning many who rely on services to make journeys have been left without a reliable mode of transport to use[1]. The lack of clarity on whether government funding would be extended post 31st March 2022 hindered local authorities and bus operators ability to plan and amend services. A minimum of ten weeks notice must be given to operators to change bus routes and timetables, meaning decisions have been made to reduce services as a means of making financial savings. The absence of a clear decision until a month prior to the end of the current funding phase has left the sector uncertain about its long-term future and has put 20-25% of services under threat[2].

Although government has said the recent Bus Recovery Grant will be the “final tranche” of funding, longer term measures and stable funding will be needed to give security to operators in the months to come. Government should:

-         Encourage the public to choose to travel on buses through public information campaigns, positive messaging, and a marketing strategy

-         Bring forward BSIP measures to boost patronage

Additionally, the sector has suffered a shortage of drivers with many leaving the profession reportedly due to low pay, poor working conditions, and long working hours. Broader insecurity surrounding the future of bus services has further hindered driver recruitment, with estimates of 4,000 vacancies for bus and coach drivers across the UK[3]. There has been no government intervention to secure more bus drivers or train the workforce up to step into the profession. Dedicated bus funding would go some of the way to offer security to existing drivers, but intervention is needed to bring in additional capacity across the bus network.

  1. Progress against the ambitions and targets set out in the national bus strategy including the effectiveness, pace and priority of the strategy’s implementation

The March 2021 National Bus Strategy contained the £3 billion transformational funding which was committed to previously in February 2020. However, since then the Department for Transport has included over £1.7bn of the Coronavirus Bus Service Support Grant and Bus Recovery Grant within the allocated £3bn ‘transformational funding’, demonstrating a shortfall to delivering the National Bus Strategy’s original funding allocation.

The delivery of zero emission (electric) buses through the government’s ZEBRA has not yet been delivered fully, and delays to the scheme are hindering progress.

  1. Innovation in the sector, including examples of new methods that have been trialled successfully

Battery powered electric vehicles are already a much cheaper and more efficient technology than hydrogen. Where direct electrification is a viable option to decarbonise a mode of transport, in this instance buses, it should be prioritised over the use of hydrogen, which is better placed to be elsewhere in the economy for hard to abate sectors such as shipping and aviation.

D.    Bus funding over the short and long term

The recently announced £198.3 million towards up to 943 zero emission buses is hugely positive yet there remains a lot of progress to be made to transition the rest of the UK’s bus fleet.

  1. Decarbonisation of the sector and modal shift from other forms of transport.

Delivering clean buses will make bus services not only one of the least polluting forms of transport but will assist in bringing down air pollution levels.

Modal shift

Recent Green Alliance research shows that we need a 20-27% reduction in car miles driven across the UK to meet climate targets[4]. Achieving this will require modal shift away from private car usage and towards public transport, and for short and medium length journeys, bus services will play a big role.

However recent low patronage and service cuts will hinder this pathway. Government must act to attract new bus users who would typically have relied on their cars to make local journeys, as well as ensure existing patrons continue to use buses.

Alongside public information campaigns and marketing to boost bus patronage, services must be reliable, accessible and frequent, and services would also have to expand to rural or under-serviced regions, in which journeys are primarily made by car. This will require continued government support beyond the current Bus Recovery Grant.

Decarbonisation

Zero emission buses have a range of benefits, including helping the sector reach its climate targets, and improved air quality. Additionally, a switch to zero emission buses could attract more than one million new passengers[5] (this would need to come alongside infrastructure upgrades, the electrification of depots and long term, dedicated funding to also improve services).

The funding thus far to transition to zero emission buses is welcome, however continued delays to the scheme are hindering progress towards decarbonisation of the bus fleet. Additionally, it is not clear yet how DfT will ensure the scheme is finalised and the remainder of the 4000 ZEB are delivered.

Government should create certainty around the funding for ZEB: current procurement cycles are not planned or regular, impacting manufacturers ability to scale up the production of ZEB as needed. A roadmap for the roll out of the remainder of the promised ZEBs would also provide clarity for LTAs and operators, enabling them to better plan the transition.

It is important to note that while ZEBs are important for decarbonising bus services, passenger numbers remain an issue and should be a priority for government. Buses are responsible for only 2.5% of emissions in the UK, yet make up 57% of all public transport journeys; they are already one of the lowest emission modes of transport. Therefore, modal shift towards buses, ZEB or otherwise, is crucial to reducing emissions from the transport sector.

The recent consultation on the phase out of ICE buses in the UK is also welcome, and the suggested phase out dates (2025-2032) are suitably ambitious.

 

April 2022

Endnotes


[1] Villagers stranded if they lose Banbury bus service - freedoms for motorists - there is value in our sewage - Letters to the Editor | Banbury Guardian

[2] spending-review-2020-submission-cpt-bus-final.pdf (cpt-uk.org)

[3] UK faces bus driver shortage as staff ‘leaving in droves’ for better-paid HGV jobs | The Independent

[4] Not going the extra mile: driving less to tackle climate change » Green Alliance (green-alliance.org.uk)

[5] New report from Stagecoach sets out pathway to attracting over one million new passengers to the UK’s bus networks through the switch to Zero Emission Buses - Stagecoach Group