Support our call for a national strategy to rejuvenate bus travel

Posted On: 
1st July 2019

Darren Shirley, Chief Executive of the Campaign for Better Transport (CfBT), and Katy Taylor, Go-Ahead Group’s Commercial and Customer Director, explain why it is vital to create a national strategy for buses to tackle congestion, address social exclusion, cut air pollution and support high streets. 

"A national strategy for buses would encourage local authorities to 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"
Credit: 
Go-Ahead

Quietly, there has been a sharp 12% fall in bus journeys since 2009. The UK bus network, particularly in rural areas often with no other public transport links, is at its thinnest in 20 years.

We have clear national strategies for rail, aviation, roads, cycling and walking – so why not bus, a transport mode which delivered 2.13bn journeys outside of London in 2017/18, and is responsible for 60% of all public transport journeys?

The Campaign for Better Transport and the Go-Ahead Group are calling for the creation of a national strategy for buses to increase patronage and highlight the 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 and less reliable for the people using them. Peer-reviewed research showed a 10% decrease in bus speeds can reduce bus usage by 10% or more, particularly when this leads to longer journey times.

Buses can themselves help tackle congestion and reduce air pollution by taking up to 75 private cars off the road.  By enabling and providing vital social contact, they also have a vital role to play in tackling the major public health issue of loneliness.  And they bring clear economic benefits too.    

73% of bus journeys are made by people in the bottom half of average incomes and 1 in 10 bus commuters would be forced to look for another job or give up work if they couldn’t commute by bus. Research indicates that just a 10% improvement in access to bus services would mean 50,000 more people in work. Buses are often the only links for people who would be otherwise be cut-off from work, education, healthcare and town centres.

Since 2010/11 there has been a net reduction of £172m in funding for local authority supported bus services in England (a 46 per cent reduction). Services are now uneven across England, and there is a lack of overarching targets or incentives for local authorities to get people back on buses.

A national strategy for buses would encourage local authorities to 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 and deliver smart solutions, such as demand-responsive transport –  enabling bus travel to further support social inclusion, improved air quality and increased physical activity through walking and cycling.

National government, supported by industry, needs to set a framework that can encourage effective collaboration at the local level to increase bus patronage to the benefit of all communities.

We welcome MPs to join us on Tuesday 2nd July from 0930-1045 at 1 Parliament Street (Room B) to learn more about our campaign and for a photo opportunity to show their support for this vital cause.

We would like to warmly thank Lilian Greenwood, chair of the Transport Select Committee, and Daniel Zeichner, member of the Transport Select Committee, for their support for this event and backing the call for greater action.


Darren Shirley is Chief Executive of the Campaign for Better Transport, an independent charity dedicated to making sustainable transport available to all. Katy Taylor is Group Commercial and Customer Director of The Go-Ahead Group, one of the largest bus operators in England.