Report finds renaissance in urban bus use

9 Feb 17

The use of local buses has increased by 19% in some urban areas, driven by the introduction of greener and more convenient services, according to Greener Journeys.

This was the conclusion of a report released today by the sustainable travel coalition and produced by the Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership, a public-private partnership aimed at accelerating low-carbon vehicle uptake.

Buses were “vital” in urban areas, the report said, since up a third of the workforce commutes by bus. In this way, buses assist in the efficiency of the labour market, enable access to education, training and better jobs, and facilitate a mobile workforce.

Despite this, demand has been in long-term decline across the UK, with usage falling by 7% over the last six years, according to the Department for Transport.

Now, however, the bus appears to be returning to fashion in some urban areas. In the last five years, passenger numbers have grown in affluent southern regions such as Bristol (19%), Reading (17%) and Milton Keynes (15%), according to the report.

In these areas, local bus services have benefited from “investment and prioritisation by local councils in partnerships with operators”, according to Greener Journeys.   

Report cited the influence of investment in cleaner vehicle technology, real-time travel information, integrated ticketing, free WiFi, better routing and bus priority measures such as bus lanes. Congested roads could also be a key factor driving greater passenger uptake, it said.

In a previous report, Greener Journeys found that a 10% improvement in local bus services was linked to a 3.6% reduction in social deprivation across England –  taking into account employment, income, life expectancy and skills.

The Local Government Association welcomed the news that more people were using buses in some areas. However, it warned that these and other local services were still at risk due to government cutbacks. 

Martin Tett, LGA transport spokesman, said: “These cherished services remain under threat as councils continue facing severe budgetary pressures following 40% reductions in core government funding in the last parliament and increasing demand for statutory services, such as adult social care.”

Handing control of the Bus Service Operators' Grant – a fuel duty rebate paid directly to bus operators by the government – back to councils would help them support vital routes, he said.

The LGA also called for more funding to pay for the free bus pass scheme, for which it said there was a shortfall of around £200m.

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