‘Bus revolution’ announced

Flexible services, contactless payments and diesel bus sales to end as part of National Bus Strategy

UK Government is launching what it describes as a ‘bus revolution’ with the publishing of the National Bus Strategy.

The Strategy is backed by £3 billion of investment and is intended to deliver more frequent, more reliable, easier to use and understand, better coordinated and cheaper bus services.

According to the Government, levelling-up services across the country will encourage more people to use the bus, rather than the car, as the country recovers from the pandemic.

The plan aims to ensure:

  • simpler bus fares with daily price caps
  • more services in the evenings and weekends
  • integrated services and ticketing across all transport modes
  • all buses to accept contactless payments

As part of the Strategy, the Government has pledged ‘hundreds of miles of new bus lanes’.

From this summer, only services currently benefiting from emergency support to help them through the pandemic will be eligible for continued support or any new sources of funding from the £3 billion transformational investment. The Government will also consult later this year on reforming the Bus Service Operators Grant, to achieve the same objectives.

Supporting manufacturers

The Government has also pledged to deliver 4,000 new British-built electric or hydrogen buses. This is in addition to transitioning cities and regions across England to emission-free buses, which it believes will safeguard the UK bus manufacturing industry. It also aims to end sales of new diesel buses, having launched a consultation on the end date.

The Government expects to see local authorities and operators working together to deliver bus services that are so frequent that passengers can just ‘turn up and go’, no longer needing to rely on a traditional timetable and having the confidence they will not wait more than a few minutes.

“As we build back from the pandemic, better buses will be one of our first acts of levelling-up” – Prime Minister, Boris Johnson

Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, said: “Buses are lifelines and liberators, connecting people to jobs they couldn’t otherwise take, driving pensioners and young people to see their friends, sustaining town centres and protecting the environment.

“As we build back from the pandemic, better buses will be one of our first acts of levelling-up.

“Just as they did in London, our reforms will make buses the transport of choice, reducing the number of car journeys and improving quality of life for millions.”

End of fully-commercialised market

The National Bus Strategy has presaged the ending of the fully-commercialised bus market, which has operated outside London since deregulation in 1986. The Government wants to see operators and local councils enter into a statutory “enhanced partnership” or franchising agreements to receive the new funding and deliver the improvements.

It is expected that many councils will choose enhanced partnerships, where local authorities work closely with bus companies, drawing on their operating knowledge and marketing skills. The Government suggests others may decide that franchising works better for them. Greater Manchester is close to opting for this latter strategy.

Anthony Smith, chief executive of independent watchdog Transport Focus, said: “For bus passengers, today’s announcement of more frequent buses and simpler fares will be welcome news. For many, buses are a lifeline to employment, education, medical appointments and leisure, and are essential to the economy. We know that the key priorities for those considering using the bus are more services running more reliably, providing better value.

“Since the pandemic, safety and cleanliness have become ever more important. We will work with bus operators and other partners to make sure passengers’ needs are at the heart of new arrangements.”

The National Bus Strategy also sets out ambitions to provide greater access to bus services for all, with plans revealed to require ‘next stop’ announcements onboard buses throughout Great Britain, intended to help disabled passengers and others to travel with confidence. The government will also launch a consultation on new regulations to improve access onboard buses for wheelchair users.

The Government acknowledges that London-style services are not appropriate for all rural and suburban areas. As such, the DfT has also announcing the recipients of the £20 million from the government’s ‘Rural mobility fund’, which enables on-demand services to be trialled in areas where a traditional bus service is not appropriate.

  • The industry reacts to the National Bus Strategy here.

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