Thank you for that introduction.
It’s a pleasure to be here today (25 March 2014).
And I’d like to congratulate Passenger Focus for delivering this new bus passenger survey.
As transport stories go, the survey is unlikely to knock high speed rail or airport expansion off the front pages.
But frankly, the subject it deals with is no less important.
Buses form the backbone of UK transport, accounting for almost two thirds of public transport journeys.
They keep people linked with the workplace, and businesses linked with the marketplace.
For many young, old and disabled people - and those who live in rural areas - their local bus service is the only option to get from A to B.
So buses keep Britain moving.
And that’s why it’s crucial that passengers feel they are getting a good service.
Today’s (25 March 2014) survey shows that customer satisfaction has improved in most areas.
Including value for money, punctuality, journey time, and reducing anti-social behaviour.
Overall satisfaction is 88%, an increase from 84% last year.
These are very positive results.
We want local authorities and bus operators to work together to bring about improvements, so it’s encouraging to see partnerships like that between Centro and local operators delivering for passengers.
I also congratulate Reading Buses for achieving the highest overall satisfaction rating at 94% - an improvement even on last year’s impressive performance.
These results don’t merely show that most passengers are happy with their bus services.
They also demonstrate the value of the bus passenger survey in helping operators and local authorities identify passenger concerns, and take action to address them.
We’ve been through 5 extremely tough years.
And we’ve all had to tighten our belts – and learn how to deliver more for less.
But make no mistake, the government is still backing buses.
We are working with the industry to invest £1 billion a year providing older and disabled people with free off-peak travel.
We’ve channelled around £350 million into buses through the Bus Service Operators Grant (BSOG), and we’re protecting bus spending up to 2015 to 2016.
We have provided £70 million through the Better Bus Area fund for improvements in 24 local authorities.
£20 million has been invested to support community transport.
And £87 million has been spent through the Green Bus Fund to boost environmental performance.
Where the market can support it, we’re improving competition for bus passengers by implementing the Competition Commission’s recommendations.
And £15 million of DfT funding is helping roll out smart ticketing technology across England’s bus fleets.
All of these measures demonstrate our commitment to buses.
They also illustrate the increasingly pivotal role of local government in delivering our bus strategy.
As I’ve outlined, substantial funding has been made available.
From the start of January, some BSOG funding has been paid directly to local authorities.
This funding has been ringfenced until 2017 to encourage more partnership working between bus operators and local authorities
Many authorities also received a share of the government’s £600 million Local Sustainable Transport Fund which included bus improvement schemes.
And they’ve had more money to spend on road maintenance each year of this Parliament compared to the last.
An important factor in bus punctuality.
All these measures give communities more control over how money is spent.
I do appreciate that with budgets under pressure, authorities have to make difficult choices about where they spend their money.
But it’s absolutely paramount that they make the most of what’s available, to secure the best services and the best value for bus passengers.
To help with this, we published guidance last October on procuring local bus services and other types of road passenger transport.
While councils all over the country continue to innovate, I believe there is scope for further improvement.
Particularly if authorities share best practice.
We should always be seeking to improve what we do and learn from others.
The Japanese have a word for it: “Kaizen” – or continuous improvement.
That’s why the DfT is continuing to work on strategies to deliver better bus services cost effectively – including through community transport.
And I urge local authorities to do the same.
Making public transport accessible to everyone in the community is something that’s close to my heart.
That’s why the concessionary fares scheme is so important.
Feeling lonely and isolated can affect everyone.
But the loss of friends and family, or losing mobility can make older and disabled people particularly vulnerable.
For many, their local bus service is more than simply a mode of transport.
It’s a lifeline.
It connects them with essential services.
But what’s just as important is that it gets them out of the house, and gives them confidence and a sense of independence.
So I’m keen for the bus industry to invest in technologies which can help them.
Many blind and partially sighted people find audio and visual announcements vital for travel.
However, they don’t come cheap - particularly for smaller, local bus operators.
The cost can rise to millions of pounds a year.
So following an industry roundtable on transport accessibility, and discussions with Guide Dogs for the Blind and the RNIB, I am encouraging operators to work with manufacturers of audio/visual technology to gauge the potential for simpler and more affordable systems for buses.
I want them to think creatively about what can be achieved.
And I’m also looking into the possibility of research initiatives involving small businesses and academic institutions to encourage further innovation.
But it’s not just about money and technology.
What’s just as important is the attitude and awareness of staff – which has such a bearing on passengers’ confidence and willingness to travel.
The DfT is currently reviewing the exemption of bus drivers from the mandatory EU disability awareness training requirement on passenger rights. This review will conclude at the end of this month.
We want to establish if drivers are receiving adequate training under the current voluntary arrangement.
I have also sought feedback from disability groups and charities.
If the results show that progress is not being made on disability awareness training, we will examine options and propose a plan of action.
So in summary, the evidence from the survey is encouraging.
Bus companies are increasingly focused on the passenger experience.
Many of them are working in partnership with local authorities.
And passengers are responding positively.
I’d like to thank everyone in the industry for their efforts.
But make no mistake, the need for efficient, reliable, affordable, clean bus services is only going to rise.
Britain’s population is growing, getting older, and travelling more.
So absorbing the growth in demand while continuing to increase passenger satisfaction will therefore provide an enduring challenge to the industry.
But it’s a challenge I’m sure it will meet.
Particularly with the help of the bus passenger survey.
Thanks to Passenger Focus, we know more today (25 March 2014) about bus passengers and their needs than we have ever known.
And that means we’re well placed to attract more passengers back onto buses,
Which in turn will give the bus industry a vital boost,
While reducing road congestion,
And cutting harmful traffic emissions.
So I look forward to working with you over the next year, and to building on the achievements of 2013.