25 September 2013: Yesterday the annual bus statistics for England 2012/13 were released by the Department for Transport. The DfT release these stats every year and they often provide stark reading about the state of the nation’s buses.
The majority of the headlines about the rising cost of public transport are about astronomical train fare rises but we must not forget about buses when talking about high fares. The annual bus statistics show that in this year alone fares have gone up by an average of 4.7 per cent, whilst the highest fare rises have been seen in non-metropolitan areas with a massive 5.7 per cent increase in the past year. Bus passenger numbers are also continuing to fall with 2.6 per cent less passenger journeys than the previous year meaning more than a 9 per cent fall since 2008.
Today's figures show the dire consequences of government cuts to support for buses. Year on year, we are seeing higher fares and fewer services. This is a false economy, preventing people from taking up job opportunities and hitting the poorest in society with massive hikes in travel costs.
Buses are the lifeblood of the UK economy yet the economic, social and environmental importance of buses is not being recognised by those in power currently. It is time for a new approach to be taken by Government and for them to harness and realise the massive potential of buses.
The short-termist approach of widespread bus cuts to make cost savings is clearly not working and we believe a new approach must focus on funding reform and the important issue of social exclusion.
Bus funding reform could help to ensure minimum standards of accessibility, improvements in standards and reductions in fares for passengers, whilst retaining vital services that are a lifeline to many.
Government should also focus on social exclusion and the vital role buses play by promoting the concessionary pass for older people and introducing a concessionary pass for younger people in education, on apprenticeships or those out of work. Nick Clegg did mention this at the Liberal Democrat Party Conference last week and we welcome this announcement but await further details.
What is clear and what should be a worry to Government is that bus use is falling whilst fares continue to increase massively year on year. And whilst we cannot specifically attribute a link between the former and the latter it is obvious that something is not right. Brave, innovative decisions with much longer term visions must now be taken by central and local Governments in order to give buses the support they need and deserve.