The Department for Transport (DfT) has produced a new strategy document (Bus Back Better – in line with everything from HMG communications having a three word slogan!!) for the provision of bus services. See link at foot of post
The Department admits that bus services have been in decline for a long time, as we have become an increasingly car-focused society. This results in being stuck in a cycle of decline where increasing congestion slows down buses and makes them less attractive, pushing people further towards the car and compounding the problem.
They also highlight that the way the bus industry is structured provides few incentives for operators and local authorities to work together, has made it harder to cope with these trends, or to act strategically. Since 1986, almost uniquely in the developed world, buses in Britain (outside London where until covid-19 bus usage was increasing)) have been organised on a predominantly commercial basis, with operators themselves deciding where to run and what to charge. These changes excluded London where unlike the rest of the country bus usage has increased with, reduced congestion, carbon and pollution, helped the disadvantaged and got motorists out of their cars.
DfT highlight since the 1986 changes profitable routes and times of day were flooded with buses at the expense of other routes and times; services became unstable and confusing; the quality of vehicles fell and fares in many places rose sharply. Services which could not be run commercially, previously cross-subsidised from the profits of busier routes, now had to be supported by the taxpayer.
DfT are now proposing to reverse many of the 1986 changes. The goal is to make buses more frequent, more reliable, easier to understand and use, better co‑ordinated and Cheaper. The aim, like London, is to provide a fully integrated service, the same simple, multi-modal tickets, the same increases in bus priority measures, the same high-quality information for passengers and, in larger places, the same turn-up-and go frequencies. The DfT also want services that keep running into the evenings and at weekends.
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