Go-Ahead: A national strategy is required to safeguard the future of the bus
Go-Ahead’s Chief Executive David Brown explains why it is critical to create a national buses strategy to address social exclusion, tackle congestion and improve air quality. This proposal is outlined in the company’s contribution to the Transport Select Committee’s inquiry into the health of the bus market.
It may not make the media headlines, but the only truly nationwide transport mode is losing its ubiquity – just when we need it most.
The nation’s bus network has shrunk to its smallest size in more than 20 years, with passenger numbers in England dropping by 9% since 2008.
Rail, cycling and walking all have national strategies to secure the future of these sustainable modes of transport – so why not bus, a service which delivered 2.2bn journeys outside of London over 2016/17?
Go-Ahead Group, which delivers two million bus journeys globally every day, is calling for the creation of a national strategy for buses to increase patronage and highlight the humble bus as the most sustainable and socially cohesive mode of transport we have.
The need for a strategy is clear.
Increasing congestion – which is 14% worse in the UK’s largest cities than five years ago – has dramatically slowed average bus speeds making journeys much less attractive. Peer-reviewed research showed a 10% decrease in bus speeds can reduce patronage by 10% or more, particularly when this leads to longer journey times.
Beyond the way bus can help tackle congestion and reduce air pollution by taking up to 75 private cars off the road, the role buses play in tackling loneliness risks being undermined by the exclusion of bus from national debate and attention. For many people living alone the bus provides a social lifeline and vital access to shops, coffee shops and other services
Buses provide vital access to jobs, with evidence suggesting one in ten bus commuters would be forced to look for another job or halt work altogether if they could no longer commute by bus. And research indicates that just a 10% improvement in access to bus services would mean 50,000 more people in work.
A national strategy for buses would ensure local authorities set targets for bus journey times to drive patronage growth across England. Such a target-setting approach, which has worked well for cycling, would act as a catalyst to reduce road congestion.
It would incentivise bus prioritisation measures, deliver smart solutions – such as demand-responsive transport – and enable bus travel to further support social inclusion.
We know this approach works as we have already been applying it in partnership with local authorities.
On our Brighton & Hove Buses network, bus priority lanes have helped patronage grow by 8.3% since 2011/12. Whilst in Crawley, the state of the art Fastway network (including bus lanes, guideway and traffic light prioritisation) delivered with West Sussex County Council, has enabled 160% growth in passengers over 10 years, and a 19% reduction in car trips.
In Oxford, we have launched a new on-demand bus service, PickMeUp, serving customers travelling to business parks and hospitals in an urban area hard to serve by traditional bus routes.
Bus innovation can make a real difference to our lives. In Southampton – a city flagged as a World Health Organization pollution hotspot – we have just launched the UK’s first air-filtering bus which literally cleans the air around it as it travels.
National government, supported by industry, needs to set a framework that can better enable partnerships at local level to increase bus patronage to the benefit of all communities.
We look forward to working with all stakeholders to achieve this end.
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