UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson this week (15 March 2021) unveiled the most ambitious shake-up of the bus sector in a generation, which will see lower, simpler flat fares in towns and cities, turn-up-and-go services on main routes, and new flexible services to reconnect communities.
The government’s new bus strategy, backed by £3 billion of investment, will see passengers across England benefiting from more frequent, more reliable, easier to use and understand, better coordinated and cheaper bus services.
Levelling up services across the country will encourage more people to use the bus, rather than the car, as the nation attempts to ‘build back better’ from the coronavirus pandemic.
The changes include, simpler bus fares with daily price caps, so people can use the bus as many times a day as they need without facing mounting costs; more services in the evenings and at the weekends; integrated services and ticketing across all transport modes, so people can easily move from bus to train; all buses to accept contactless payments
Hundreds of miles of new bus lanes will make journeys quicker and more reliable, getting people out of their cars, reducing pollution and operating costs.
The government is also promising to deliver 4,000 new British-built electric or hydrogen buses will provide clean, quiet, zero-emission travel and end sales of new diesel buses, with a new consultation launched on the end date.
We expect 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 won’t wait more than a few minutes.
“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,” says 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 fragmented, fully commercialised market, which has operated outside London since 1986, will end. We want to see operators and local councils enter into statutory ‘enhanced partnerships’ 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. Others may decide that franchising works better for them.
Because of the decline in use caused by the pandemic, bus operators have already received significant emergency support from the government. From this summer, only services under these arrangements 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 – the current main stream of government bus funding – to achieve the same objectives.
“The new strategy will completely overhaul services, ensuring we build back better from the pandemic. Key to it is the new deal it offers to councils – we will provide unprecedented funding, but we need councils to work closely with operators, and the government, to develop the services of the future,” says Transport Secretary Grant Shapps.
It also sets out ambitions to provide greater access to bus services for all, with plans revealed to require ‘next stop’ announcements on board buses throughout Great Britain, helping disabled passengers and others to travel with confidence. The government will also launch a consultation on new regulations to improve access on board buses for wheelchair users.
London-style services aren’t appropriate for all rural and suburban areas, which is why the Department for Transport is today also announcing the recipients of the £20 million from the government’s rural mobility fund, which enables on-demand services – such as minibuses booked via an app – to be trialled in areas where a traditional bus service isn’t appropriate.