New Bill aims to boost UK bus usage through new technologies

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A new Bill has been introduced to the UK Parliament that is designed to increase the use of buses, help cut congestion and deliver economic growth, with smartphone applications and new technologies at the heart of the reforms.

Government figures show that buses are the most used form of public transport in England, UK, with over 4.65 billion journeys completed in 2014/15, and without buses, rush hour congestion in city centers across the country would be 21% higher, costing millions of pounds in lost time.

The Bus Services Bill will give councils new powers to work in partnership with companies to improve journeys for passengers, and bring in new technology, including on-board WiFi. Data about fares, timetables, and routes, will be openly available, so software developers can produce apps that tell passengers when the next service will turn up. It is estimated this alone will lead to an extra five million journeys a year. The proposals are designed to improve public transport to help cut congestion and unlock untapped economic growth across the country.

All councils will be able to enter into new ‘enhanced partnerships’ with bus companies under the new law. Under existing partnerships, councils have achieved some real successes and passenger numbers soared 13% in a year after new buses with unique liveries were launched in Portsmouth and Waterlooville, Enland, UK. Currently, councils have to invest in costly new infrastructure before they can create a partnership, even if it is unnecessary. Areas with an elected Mayor will now also get the power to bring in bus franchising, where they think it is appropriate, and say what services should be run in their area, as is the case in London.

Other councils, beyond the areas with an elected mayor, will also be able to franchise buses if they get permission from the Transport Secretary. Technology companies will be able to download ‘open data’ with route and timetable information, so they can introduce new apps that will benefit passengers. These changes are being made after bus operator Arriva successfully launched a national real-time app for their services in June 2014, which has had 750,000 downloads. Bus services across England, UK, are currently deregulated, meaning companies are free to choose what services they run, what buses they use, and how much they charge. In London, buses are franchised, and companies bid to run the service on a particular route. Private bus operators will continue to provide services and will own their vehicles whichever approach is taken, but they will compete for contracts in franchising areas.

Announcing the proposals, UK Roads Minister, Andrew Jones (pictured), said, “Good bus services can help cut congestion and deliver better journeys for hard-working people, helping them get around and get on. We are determined to increase bus usage and these measures are designed to give councils access to a range of powers to help deliver regular, reliable services for all. We are also looking to end the frustration of not knowing when the next service will turn up, by giving software developers the data they need to produce new apps.”

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Tom has edited Traffic Technology International magazine and the Traffic Technology Today website since he joined the company in May 2014. Prior to this he worked on some of the UK's leading consumer magazine titles including Men's Health and Glamour, beginning his career in journalism in 1997 after graduating with a law degree from the London School of Economics (LSE).

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