We had one objective for the 2018 edition of Buses in Crisis, the report we’ve produced annually since 2010, and that was to have our biggest impact yet. And in many ways we achieved that aim, but that’s not the end of the story.
First the bad news
The stakes have never been higher, as our report showed that local authority budgets for tendered bus services have almost halved in eight years. Before long, more services will have been lost than there are left to save. This has real consequences for the lives of people who are just trying to get to work, school, to the shops or visit friends.
Our report makes for grim reading, with 3,347 bus routes cut or reduced since 2010. In England, 64 per cent of councils (that’s 56 of 88 authorities) reduced or spent nothing on supported bus services in the last year and in Wales, 82 per cent (18 of 22 authorities) also reduced or spent nothing. This shows that many transport authorities are washing their hands of buses. It cannot go on.
Positive vision for buses
This year we wanted to have detailed solutions to the problems we presented. Firstly, we produced a guide to using the Bus Services Act 2017. This shows a new way of working for bus operators and local authorities. Instead of dividing bus services between tendered and commercial, it allows them to partner together to provide the services people want. Our guide is full of examples of how partnership working has driven up patronage.
But it isn’t just councils that need to change their approach. We also produced a government briefing for a national Coach and Bus Investment Strategy. Buses are the only mode of transport not to have a strategy: everything from walking to aviation has one. We are calling on Government to commit to reversing the decline in bus patronage and reform funding for buses.
The national conversation is dominated by one huge subject at the moment and where transport does make an appearance it is usually about airports or commuter rail in south east England. That’s why it was really thrilling to hear our report findings used during Prime Minister’s Questions, the highest level of the national conversation. We also saw huge media interest in the story and the solutions we presented.
The task now is to keep buses in the national conscience and encourage government, both local and national, to take buses seriously. Supporters can help us by telling their local MP how important a national strategy for coaches and buses is to the future of their services and by encouraging their local transport authority to explore the possibilities of our guide.