The government has announced a £3 billion investment in bus services that’s designed to get drivers out of their cars, cutting traffic and pollution. That money will pay for a fare cap, increased services and greener vehicles, while the government has also called for the “fragmented, fully commercialised market” to end.
Instead, the government wants councils to join forces with bus companies through statutory “enhanced partnerships” or franchising agreements, which will allow central government to distribute the funding. The Department for Transport (DfT) expects most councils to enter enhanced partnerships that see authorities draw on companies’ operating knowledge and marketing skills.
The government says these systems will mean the companies and councils can deliver more frequent and more reliable bus services, as well as introducing improved coordination with trains and reducing costs for passengers. Doing that, the government hopes, will make buses more appealing than cars, allowing the UK to cut traffic and pollution.
To that end, the plans also include a huge increase in the number of bus lanes, and an increase in the number of services available during the evening and at weekends. And the government is planning to clean up the buses themselves, consulting on plans to end the sale of new diesel buses at a time yet to be decided, and delivering 4,000 new electric or hydrogen buses.
“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,” said Prime Minister Boris Johnson. “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.”
The plans were welcomed by the Local Government Association (LGA), which represents the interests of councils and other local authorities. Cllr Darren Rodwell, the LGA’s transport spokesperson, said councils were keen to work with the government to make the plans a reality, but called on the authorities to improve council funding to “protect” services.
“We are pleased the government is investing in improving local bus services, and it is good this strategy recognises the important role of councils,” he said. “The coronavirus pandemic has shown how well councils and bus operators can work together to provide local bus services, which have been vital in ensuring essential workers can travel, and that places can continue to function.
“Councils want to work with the government to make sure every community is able to access a local bus service. We would urge the government to also plug the £700 million annual funding gap councils faced before the pandemic in providing the concessionary fares scheme, which would help to protect local routes and reverse the decline in bus services.”