Wherever we live, buses form the backbone of our local transport network, providing the links that we need to make our daily journeys to work, to the shops, or to school.
So I would like people to think about buses far more than they do already.
Because buses are at the heart of any modern, clean transport system.
That is why I am grateful to Greener Journeys and KPMG for organising this conference.
And in particular for the research that’s being published today (10 September 2015) which makes a compelling case for investing in bus infrastructure. Not just because it’s a reliable and flexible form of transport. And not just because it’s fundamental to local economic growth. But also because it’s among the greenest ways of getting around, reducing congestion and cutting vehicle emissions on city streets.
So it’s in all our interests to get more passengers on buses which means we have to provide services that people want to use. And I think it’s important here to recognise the progress that’s being made.
According to the last Passenger Focus survey, bus customer satisfaction has improved in most areas. Value for money. Punctuality. And journey times.
Overall satisfaction is up, almost 9 out of 10 customers are satisfied. Passenger numbers have been growing too. 87 million more bus journeys were taken in England during the 12 months to September 2014 than the previous year. That’s a trend we’re not just seeing in London, but outside the capital too.
So the industry deserves real credit here.
But we have to continue delivering for passengers if the industry’s going to grow. With buses that are modern, clean, reliable and easy to use. And with services that meet the demands of the market.
Certainly, central government has a big role to play. Continued investment in buses is clearly essential.
That’s why we’ve allocated more than £300 million for major bus projects. And we’ve spent £70 million through the Better Bus Areas programme.
Many bus schemes have benefited from our £600 million local sustainable transport fund.
This is on top of the BSOG subsidy. And nearly £1 billion of spending on the national concessionary bus pass. With further investment going into community bus travel.
But there’s a limit to central government’s role in bus provision. Bus services are mostly local. And so they should be managed locally too. That’s why we are devolving power out to local decision-makers.
Our devolution plans go beyond Manchester and Cornwall. If other places want to come forward with attractive devolution deals that include bus franchising, we will consider them.
We want a strong commercial bus market, with operators making a decent profit, so they can invest in new vehicles and better services, and compete with other forms of transport. But the future success and profitability of bus services in each city will depend on how well local authorities, LEPs and operators adapt to local conditions.
Not every city and every region will adopt the same bus strategy. This isn’t about ideology. Or one size fits all. It’s about what works best in each area, whether that’s partnerships, or a franchising approach.
Then there’s new technologies such as smartcards, integrated across all local modes of transport. Smartcards will be transformational – not just in London but across the country. And not just for passengers but for transport operators too.
And we are seeing good progress being made now through the Smart Cities Partnership.
In Liverpool, for example, where the transport authority and bus operators have been working on the Saveaway ticket.
Or in South Yorkshire, where the M Card is getting established.
In Birmingham and the north east.
Even in South Hampshire, which is outside the Smart Cities Partnership, the SolentGo card has been launched because 9 bus operators were prepared to work together, with 4 ferry owners and 4 different transport authorities.
In this way, building strong relationships between local authorities, LEPs and bus operators will ultimately bring smartcards to every part of the country.
And today, I am pleased to announce the opening of bidding for local authorities across England for the 2015 £5 million Clean Bus Technology Fund.
The fund will provide grants of up to £500,000 to local authorities to support the upgrade of buses with new technology, to reduce emissions in areas of poor air quality.
This will add to the £20 million we have already invested since 2011. Together with significant contributions from local authorities and bus operators.
And it’s that same unity of purpose and shared commitment to make buses even more of a success that will drive the industry forward in the years ahead.
Already, two thirds of public transport journeys are taken by bus. And this is a growing industry.
We want that growth to continue. So I am glad this research has been published today. I will read it with much interest.
Because we do need to make sure the benefits of the bus are properly appraised and that local decision-makers understand how to evaluate bus schemes.
So I will carefully consider the research to see if there’s any more we should do.
If we get it right.
And if we work together to put the passenger first.
If we harness new technologies.
And if we take advantage of the opportunities that devolution offers to meet local challenges with local, bespoke solutions.
We will give the industry even better prospects for the future.