Years of campaigning by Campaign for Better Transport and others has finally paid off with the announcement that the Government will deliver a National Bus Strategy next year, meaning buses will no longer be the Cinderella of transport modes.
This is fantastic news for communities up and down the country who have borne the brunt of degrading and withdrawn services in recent years. But what will the strategy look like?
Passenger numbers have been falling steadily in recent years, partly due to a reduction in services and partly because buses simply haven’t been practical for lots of people to use. Therefore one of the main aims of the National Bus Strategy should be to increase passenger numbers; to do that we need to make buses a no brainer.
We need a programme of investment in both physical and digital infrastructure and a new generation of modal interchanges connecting bus networks with other forms of transport. We need multi-modal ticketing, contactless payment and integrated journey planning so passengers can plan and execute their journeys with less effort.
We also need bus travel to be cheaper. One of the recommendations in our recent report, The future of the bus, was a local trial of free or reduced price bus travel, along with targeted support from Government to reduce fares for young people across the country.
There is also an increasingly urgent need to speed up the transition to zero emission vehicles. As part of a National Bus Strategy the Government should set a deadline of 2025 for all new buses to be zero emissions (electric or hydrogen). To support this, it should put in place a sector deal for bus manufacturing to increase the capacity of the UK bus industry to replace the existing polluting bus fleet.
The one-year funding announced so far for zero emission buses, and to improve existing routes and restore lost services is welcome. The Government has also committed to a long-term funding settlement for buses. In this it needs to give local authorities and bus operators the ability to plan for years to come and ensure the sustainability of critical services for communities while stemming the cuts in services and working to increase patronage.