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The new national bus strategy

  • by JW

Buses are now enjoying a revival in their fortunes – but will “the end of an era of bus deregulation” and “enhanced partnerships” attract more onto buses?


Exeter is going to have a spanking new bus station:

Bus passengers in Exeter face bright future as brand new station emerges – Exeter City Council News

PICS: ‘Striking’ new £8m Exeter Bus Station on time for summer opening |


Which should help the local recovery:

Bus station redevelopment is catalyst for city centre regeneration – Exeter City Council News


Meanwhile, the UK government is investing in green technologies:

Multi-million pound scheme for zero-emission buses across England launched – GOV.UK

New £120m zero emission bus scheme – Air Quality News

UK Plans Green Modernization of Buses |

This is part of the government’s new national bus strategy:

Bus back better – GOV.UK

Local transport update: national bus strategy for England published – GOV.UK


It seems, then, that buses are now enjoying a revival in their fortunes – but there are of course questions.


This is from an analysis in the Conversation:


Britain’s betting on buses – but how far will boosting services reduce carbon emissions?

A move to “make buses the transport of choice, reducing the number of car journeys and improving quality of life for millions” has been launched as part of a national bus strategy in the UK. It seeks to make bus services more reliable and affordable to get people out of the cars that still dominate transport in the country.

But to what degree can such changes convince people to ditch their cars and rely on a sector that in many parts of the country has been neglected for years? Can boosting bus services reduce carbon emissions and help the UK achieve its environmental goals?

It’s difficult to convince drivers to choose public transport, as studies have shown. Increasing the reliability and frequency of bus services might attract people who rarely travel by bus, but it’s not always enough.

The national bus strategy proposes making services more appealing by giving buses priority over other traffic. Where separate bus lanes have been introduced in the UK – and especially guided busways, such as one in Cambridgeshire – the improved speed and reliability have made the services attractive to those with cars and led to higher passenger loadings. In the Cambridgeshire Busway case, about 25% of drivers left their cars and chose the bus along with 13% of car-share passengers, saving about 550,000 litres of fuel in a year…

Britain’s betting on buses – but how far will boosting services reduce carbon emissions?


This is from a recent piece in the FT:


Thatcher’s legacy put in reverse by new plans for buses

Strategy brings an end to the unregulated free-for-all that saw services disappear and prices leap

The privatisation of buses in 1986 was one of Margaret Thatcher’s most significant stamps on society. She was widely (and wrongly) quoted as saying, “a man who beyond the age of 26 finds himself on a bus can count himself as a failure”. This perception stuck, even if her break-up of the National Bus Company was supposed to herald more competition and cheaper tickets.

The reality has fallen short: five companies carry 70 per cent of all passengers in the UK. The RAC Foundation says in the last decade, fares have risen 76 per cent. Only in London, where buses remain under mayoral control, have journey numbers risen. Elsewhere, routes have disappeared: the Campaign for Better Transport calculates that 3,000 bus services have gone in a decade. For the 19 per cent of the population with no access to a car — especially those on lower incomes in areas with poor rail links — this has been devastating. As people have turned to cars, shops have moved to out-of-town retail parks and those reliant on buses have been left behind.

While Labour-run Manchester is planning to take over the buses, it is the Conservatives who are doing the most to reverse Thatcher’s deregulation, inspired by the post-Brexit shift in their voting base to less affluent voters. The government recently published its national bus strategy, advocating “enhanced partnerships” between operators and local councils.

Norman Baker, of the Campaign for Better Transport, thinks the approach will result in improved services, but argues for more money. “Over the past 10 years, many [smaller] local authorities have been hollowed out. They simply don’t have the expertise to run complex bus services. It’s fine for Manchester, Birmingham or York to run a franchising system.”

Thatcher’s legacy put in reverse by new plans for buses | Financial Times (paywall)


Here’s more comment on that national bus strategy from the BBC:

National bus strategy: What is happening to passenger numbers and funding? – BBC News


It’s been welcomed by business:

National bus strategy for England – a bus revolution is coming | Business West


But it’s not quite the national strategy some lobbyists had hoped for:

National Bus Strategy | Campaign For Better Transport


The new set-up is indeed not perfect – but it’s seen as a good start.


Finally, again, from the FT today:


England’s new bus strategy faces challenge to get passengers on board

Shake-up ditches deregulation in effort to improve services and reverse falling usage

“We’ve come to the end of an era of bus deregulation,” said Jonathan Bray, director of Urban Transport Group, which represents English city regions’ transport authorities, who added that the move was long overdue.

The new strategy gives local authorities freedom to decide how closely they work with bus operators, including moving to a full franchising system under which it allocates routes, similar to the model used in the capital by Transport for London and extensively elsewhere in Europe. The so-called enhanced partnerships must at a minimum produce joint plans with targets to improve services and increase bus use to qualify for central government funding. The more centralised planning is intended to simplify and cap fares, integrate ticketing with local train services and increase priority bus lanes, to enable faster journeys…

The ambitious reform of the sector, backed by a £3bn, five-year funding package, is a key element of UK prime minister Boris Johnson’s policy to drive a “green” recovery from coronavirus by reducing reliance on cars and introducing 4,000 low-emission buses. Johnson has also put it at the heart of the government’s “levelling up” agenda…

The decision to overhaul the sector was widely welcomed but local authorities, pressure groups and industry executives warned it was only the first step needed to redress the host of problems riddling England’s bus networks. “The big risk is it needs to be got right in 85 different places”, said Graham Vidler, chief executive of the Confederation of Public Transport, in reference to the number of local transport authorities outside London…

On the whole, operators are supportive of the changes, although they point out they already work closely with local authorities. “I think what this strategy does is formalise this agenda,” said Paul O’Neil, managing director of UK bus at Arriva… “The next six to nine months are a particular point of risk as we come out of the pandemic and try to build patronage in the new world,” said Tom Stables, UK managing director at National Express. “The message of ‘get back on public transport’ needs to be as strong as ‘stop’.”

England’s new bus strategy faces challenge to get passengers on board | Financial Times (paywall)