Four ways to ensure the bus industry meets passengers’ needs

Patrick McLoughlin explains the future plans for buses including funding, the role of the private sector, cities and technology.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

The Rt Hon Sir Patrick McLoughlin MP

Opening remarks

Thank you David [Begg – Chairman], and good morning everyone. It’s a real pleasure to be here.

Today’s summit brings together an impressive line-up of experts from right across the bus industry, and right across the UK.

So I’m very grateful to Transport Times for inviting me to speak.

Transport under this government

With the general election just 3 months away, this is also a timely conference.

When I look back over the past 5 years, I’m proud of what we’ve achieved, as a government, and as a country.

We’ve stuck to our plans on the economy, bearing down on our debts, turning recession into recovery.

And as promised, we’ve raised the profile of transport within government.

Making better roads and rail services part of our blueprint for a more prosperous, more competitive Britain.

Buses under this government

And I hardly need tell you that within the transport network, buses matter. Two thirds of all public transport journeys are taken on them – tens of millions of trips every week.

And this is a growing, not declining, industry. Yes - there are some challenges. I’ll turn to some of them in a moment. But the story is positive.

According to the last Passenger Focus survey, customer satisfaction has improved in most areas; value for money, punctuality, journey times.

Overall satisfaction is up: almost 9 out of 10 customers 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 – for keeping Britain mobile.

The future

Now, what of the future?

The big argument is this:

We all agree buses are key to helping people get on and get around. They beat congestion. They link rural areas. They get people to work – and to school.

But we need buses that are modern, clean, reliable and easy to use, and that meet the needs of passengers.

So how do we get there?

I think the answer has 4 parts:

First, central government needs to do its bit. And we are.

We’ve allocated more than £300 million for major bus projects, including, most recently, funding for the first 2 phases of Bristol’s bus rapid transport project.

We have also spent £70 million through the better bus areas programme.

And 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.

We’re supporting innovation too. Next month we’ll launch a £30 million scheme to boost the market for low emission buses.

And government has a big role supporting new ways to get buses to rural areas.

We’ve just announced funding for Total Transport schemes – a really exciting initiative which gets a rave review from the Campaign for Better Transport.

Yesterday was the deadline for bids to run Total Transport pilots. And I’ve backed £25 million funding to buy new community buses too.

The second key point is that the private sector needs to play its role.

I back a strong commercial bus market. I admire work being done not just by big firms like First and Stagecoach but also smaller operators, like Trent Barton, near me in the East Midlands.

Or Stephensons in Essex – whose Managing Director Bill Hiron spoke to the CPT the other day; his first major speech since being appointed CPT President.

He said:

Commercial freedom allows us to reinvest profits in new, state of the art vehicles.

We know what works and what doesn’t in our local market. You can’t put a price on that kind of knowledge. In short, we deliver the service our passengers want and deserve.

He’s right. We rely on the private sector to translate public investment into effective services. Bus operators innovate because they are commercial businesses, competing against other forms of transport, and against other operators.

Third, cities must play their part.

Buses are the most local form of public transport, so it’s right that decisions are also taken locally.

The momentum for devolution is growing.

Before Christmas the Chancellor outlined plans to create an elected Mayor in Greater Manchester, which will help establish a more integrated and co-ordinated transport strategy in the north.

I appreciate that providers of bus services may be concerned about the speed and scale of devolution. But I want to stress that buses are a major part of Manchester’s vision for transport.

They see bus services playing an increasingly prominent role.

So, if Greater Manchester votes in favour of the change, this is an opportunity for the bus industry to work with the Mayor.

To take advantage of a major investment in transport, and help create a northern powerhouse.

But remember – no model of local power will be the same.

The future success and profitability of bus services in each city will depend on how well local authorities and operators adapt to local conditions.

Local enterprise partnerships are also playing an increasingly pivotal role.

The bottom line is this: if you want buses to thrive, you need to ensure that LEPs are getting the message.

So it’s great to see so many LEPs represented here today (12 February 2014).

Fourth, technology matters.

Clean vehicles, electric and hybrid, but also smartcards – integrated across all local modes of transport, from buses to trains and trams.

This would be transformational – not just for passengers, but for transport operators, too.

Despite significant investment, progress on smart ticketing has been slow. But we are now starting to overcome some of the obstacles that have been in the way.

Last week I was in Liverpool, where the DfT-sponsored Smart Cities Programme is helping to tackle some of the long-standing issues.

The transport authority and major bus operators are working together. As a result, the multi-modal Saveaway ticket was launched 4 months ahead of schedule.

The card has so far been a resounding success, with 36,000 sold in the first few weeks. And next month it will be rolled out to the rest of Merseyside.

We are also seeing the MCard getting established in South Yorkshire.

And progress is being made in Birmingham and the north east.

I have to recognise here the efforts of bus operators.

Now I urge the other operators to see what’s happening in Merseyside and other areas, and join the smart ticketing revolution.


And it’s that thought – a united bus industry working towards shared goals and objectives – that I want to finish on today.

Under this roof we have representatives of many different companies, organisations, professions and countries.

Public and private sectors. Planners and operators. People from across the UK.

But you are all part of an industry that has great prospects for the future.

Certainly, government has its part to play at a strategic level, and can be an advocate and agent of change.

But it is you who are the key to success.

I don’t need to tell a room full of experts that successful bus services need constant hard work.

But by putting the passenger at the heart of everything you do, and working together in partnership; by grasping the opportunities provided by devolution; innovating and harnessing technology; and by meeting local challenges with the right local solutions, then I’ve no doubt those great prospects will be realised to the benefit of everyone.

So thank you for listening.

And I hope you have an interesting and stimulating day.

Thank you.

Published 12 February 2015