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Buses play a vital role in our transport system. Responsible for around 12 million journeys a day, our buses transport more people than any other form of public transport - getting people to work, to education and to see friends and family, the everyday journeys that make up our lives.
We are already undertaking transformational programmes on our rail and road networks and we know people also want better local public transport. Buses have huge potential as part of a smart, affordable, sustainable public transport system. Fill a double decker with motorists and it’s possible to remove 75 cars from the road. They can help ease congestion in our towns, cities and countryside, improve air quality and support better connected communities.
That’s why we are taking the lead in launching a revolution in bus services - delivering a better deal for bus users that meet the needs and demands of the travelling public. In a package worth £220 million, we are committing to the UK’s first-ever long-term bus strategy and funding settlement.
This will see new transformational Superbus networks rolled out from next year. The first Superbus network pilot will be introduced across Cornwall next year where the network will be integrated with the county’s main spinal railway line.
The package also includes over £20 million for new bus express lanes in the West Midlands to make their buses, which carry over one million people per day, faster and more reliable. Our plans will help support a digital revolution on buses improving the information available to passengers so they can plan journeys, find best value tickets and travel more easily with contactless payments available on every bus.
We also want to create Britain’s first all-electric bus town which will see an entire place’s bus fleet changed over to zero emission capable buses. Although the location has not yet been decided, the town will serve as a model for zero-emission bus travel.
In 2020/21 we will pay an extra £30 million to local authorities to improve current services and restore lost services where they’re needed most.
Our aim is to drive up patronage and make travelling by bus an even more attractive option. We look forward to working with you in developing these plans.
Rt Hon Grant Shapps MP, Transport Secretary
Investing in buses
The government wants to deliver a transport system that works for everyone. Buses are an affordable, accessible transport choice, with the ability to reduce congestion and improve air quality, and bring economic benefits to the places they serve.
Buses account for around 50% (source: DfT statistics table NTS0303) of all journeys on public transport, with over 4 billion journeys made by bus last year in England (source: DfT statistics table BUS0103). For more people to use the bus, services need to take people where they want to go, be reliable, arrive on time, and offer good value for money. The government is committed to achieving this.
The Chancellor announced over £200 million to transform bus services in the Spending Round for 2020/21. This document summarises how this funding, and associated policies, will be used to implement innovative and ambitious proposals which demonstrate the difference that prioritising buses can make.
National bus strategy
The government’s ambition to secure a long term, sustained improvement in bus services will be underpinned by a National Bus Strategy for England. The strategy will focus on the needs of passengers so that more people want to use the bus, and set out how national and local government and the private sector will come together to meet the needs of local communities.
Our long-term vision for buses will be accompanied by a long-term funding commitment. We will review funding for buses, including the existing grant funding to operators, to ensure that investment is focussed on meeting the needs of passengers, and provide an associated settlement.
Good quality bus services are vital for thriving local economies, with bus users generating £64 billion of economic output each year (Mackie, P. Laird, J. and Johnson, D. (2012) Buses and Economic Growth, Institute for Transport Studies, University of Leeds) and contributing to around 1/3 of city centre spending (Greener Journeys (2016) The Value of the Bus to Society). For bus services to be attractive to passengers, they need to be quick and, most importantly, they need to be reliable (Transport Focus (2016) Bus passengers have their say).
Bus priority should be central to good journeys across a place. Local authorities are responsible for managing the local road network and must ensure that bus priority measures are actively considered as part of this process. The government is acting to ensure that local authorities understand the importance it places on bus priority.
In the West Midlands, the government will provide over £20 million to fund new bus priority measures that have been identified by the Mayor of the West Midlands as necessary. The package will benefit almost 90 million passengers per year, providing 5 km of new bus only roads, 8 junction upgrades, 5 km of new bus lanes and 16 enhanced waiting facilities.
All new road investments in England which receive central UK government funding will be required to either support bus priority measures or explain why doing so would not be necessary or appropriate in that instance. All future funding bids will need to explicitly address this issue.
As well as providing local authorities with funding to invest in bus priority measures, the government will refresh the department’s guidance to provide up to date, and relevant advice on prioritising those vehicles which can carry the most people. This will ensure local authorities have the information they need to improve the speed of bus journeys, and further support the case for bus priority measures.
Tackling air quality and greenhouse gas emissions
Buses have an important role to play in addressing air quality issues and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. There are already a greater proportion of electric buses in the fleet than in the car fleet, but it is vital that we go further to improve our environment and support the development of healthy cities.
The government has already invested around £150 million since 2010 to replace and upgrade the bus fleet, resulting in over 1,300 low emission buses on our roads, with an extra 263 zero emission buses on the way.
The government is now ready to go one step further and will shortly seek expressions of interest from local authorities and bus operators in developing an all-electric bus town or city. This will see an entire place’s bus fleet changed over to zero emission capable buses. Although the location has not yet been decided, the town will serve as a model for zero-emission bus travel.
We will expect as many buses as possible to be exclusively electric, with scope to test innovations such as longer distance hybrids, which operate in electric-only mode within the city. Local authorities will need to show how this supports their wider plans for public transport in the town or city. Up to £50 million will be invested to contribute to new buses and the supporting infrastructure.
As well as transforming cities, this will contribute to the government’s modern Industrial strategy, by supporting the UK’s bus manufacturing sector— leading the industries of the future and building the UK’s competitiveness in the face of major global economic trends.
Passenger information and publicity
Passengers want better information (Transport Focus (March 2016) Bus passengers have their say) - and we can only expect them to get the bus if they know when and where it goes and how much it costs. The government is currently developing a new bus open data portal, which will contain information on bus services for use by app developers. Significant progress has been made, with the intention that fares and location data will be available from January 2021. The government expects to work with technology companies, app developers and information providers to ensure that a range of innovative products are provided to potential and existing bus users, so they can make informed choices. The government considers that the information available at bus stops needs to be better and more consistent in terms of what is available. We will look to local authorities and operators to determine, with input from passengers, what should be available (such as timetables and maps) so that people who do not have access to apps can also benefit from clear and simple information.
To get more people using the bus the government will work with the industry, including operators, local authorities and Transport Focus, to identify activities to raise awareness of improvements to services locally to encourage people to travel by bus. This work will consider recent and existing initiatives, such as Transport Focus and Transport for the West Midlands’ current Give Bus a Go campaign, to identify how best to market the bus experience to attract new passengers.
Fares and payment
Passengers expect value for money and want the ability to travel on the first bus that turns up regardless of which company operates it (Transport Focus (March 2016) Bus passengers have their say). The government is actively looking to work with local authorities and operators to identify ways to encourage operators to implement multi-operator tickets and fares caps, either in relation to the price paid for individual journeys or a daily or weekly cap (so you never pay more than the price of a daily or weekly ticket regardless of the number of journeys taken).
To make it easier for passengers to pay for their journey on the bus, the government will work with industry to ensure that all buses accept contactless payments. The 5 largest bus companies have already rolled-out contactless payment devices across their networks, as have many medium-sized operators. We will work with small operators and their trade associations to address barriers, so that they can do the same.
As a first step, the government will encourage local authorities to specify contactless payment when they tender for services and/or offer grants for provision. In the long-term, consideration is being given to whether bus service operators grant would not be paid to operators who do not offer contactless payment from a set date.
The government will fund a 4 year pilot in Cornwall to bring down fares to be introduced from May 2020. This work will build on Cornwall’s existing One Public Transport project, which aims to provide integrated public transport by joining up the bus and rail networks and demonstrate whether and how such an approach works in a rural area.
We are also exploring whether a further pilot could be developed to decrease fares and improve frequencies in an urban area through the local authority and bus operators entering into a partnership to deliver a superbus network. The local authority would provide capital investment in bus lanes and other bus priority measures, in exchange for the bus operators delivering high frequency services.
Supporting bus services
One way that the government currently supports bus services is through a grant of around £250 million a year. This benefits passengers by helping operators keep their fares lower and service levels higher than would otherwise be possible.
Since January 2014, around £43 million of the grant is paid directly to local authorities, rather than bus operators, to support socially necessary bus services in their area that are not commercially viable. The government recognises the importance of these services which can provide vital connections to people in rural areas, or ensure that more frequent evening or Sunday services are available. To improve current bus services, or restore lost services where needed, the government will pay an extra £30 million to local authorities in 2020/21.
Apply for supported bus services funding
To trial on-demand services in rural and suburban areas the government has established a fund of up to £20 million. Demand responsive transport services have been used for some time to replace infrequent, traditional services which do not meet a local community’s specific needs, with ones which can get closer to where people live, at a time convenient for them.
We will shortly seek expressions of interest for the new fund, with the intention to have operations starting on the ground as soon as possible. The focus will be on projects setting up services where they do not already exist, with existing schemes looking to expand their network or improve the services provided to local residents also being considered.
Applicants will need to demonstrate how the demand responsive solution fills a gap in transport provision in rural and suburban areas, and how it works better (for example, reliability, journey time and length) or enhances opportunities for local residents to access services (for example, school, local hospitals, and shops) and employment in contrast to traditional bus services.
The government is also exploring whether a bottom-up, community-based approach might be used to deliver this funding.
More details on the eligibility, assessment criteria and timetable for applying will be provided in the expression of interest.
Apply for rural mobility funding
Summary of commitments
Government commitments to deliver bus services people want to use:
- National Bus Strategy focussed on passenger priorities
- review of £250 million bus service operators grant to ensure it supports the environment and improved passenger journeys
- over £20 million investment in bus priority measures in the West Midlands
- all new road investments receiving government funding to explicitly address bus priority measures to improve bus journey times and reliability
- refreshing the government’s guidance to local authorities to provide up to date advice on prioritising those vehicles which can carry the most people
- investing up to £50 million to deliver Britain’s first all-electric bus town or city
- improving information for bus passengers through new digital services and at bus stops
- challenging industry to deliver a campaign to attract people to buses
- incentivising multi-operator ticketing with lower fares
- trialling new ‘superbus’ network approach to deliver low fare, high frequency services and funding 4-year pilot of a lower fare network in Cornwall
- ambition for all buses to accept contactless payment for passenger convenience
- £30 million extra bus funding to be paid direct to local authorities to enable them to improve current bus services or restore lost services
- £20 million to support demand responsive services in rural and suburban areas