Buses make people healthier and wealthier, research finds

24 Oct 16

Improving local bus services can boost employment and improve income, helping to reduce social deprivation, research published by Greener Journeys has found.

The government must amend the Bus Services Bill to include rural transport and ensure services outside urban centres are protected from cuts, the Campaign for Better Transport has said.

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It revealed that a 10% improvement in local bus services is linked to a 3.6% reduction in social deprivation across England, taking into account employment, income, life expectancy and skills.

Greener Journeys, a coalition of the UK’s leading public transport organisations, user groups and supporters, commissioned KPMG and the Institute for Transport Studies at the University of Leeds to carry out the research. It is the first to measure the impact of bus services on deprivation.

It found that if the bus services in the 10% most deprived neighbourhoods across England were improved by 10%, there would be significant, tangible improvements to that area.

In this case, the improvements as estimated in the report would be: 9,909 more jobs, as a consequence of a 2.7% fall in employment deprivation; increased income for more than 22,647 people, as a consequence of a 2.8% drop in income deprivation; and 2,596 fewer years of life lost. 

Also, 7,313 more people would have adult skills and there would be an increase in post-16 education of around 0.7%.

The report, The Value of the Bus to Society, considered the impact that bus services have on the ability of households to participate in economic and social activities and, ultimately, on levels on economic, social and environmental deprivation.

In the UK, one in four people are risk of social exclusion, and the same number of people do not have access to a car.

Previous research by Greener Journeys highlighted that existing bus services bring substantial economic benefits to the UK. Around 3.5 million people travel to work by bus, and it is estimated these commuters generate more than £64bn worth of goods and services per year.

Furthermore, it highlighted the “vast rewards” that can accrue from proper investment in local bus infrastructure, concluding that every £1 spent on local bus traffic priority measures delivers up to £7 in economic benefit.

Greener Journeys called on the government to prioritse investment in buses and local bus infrastructure, and advised decision-makers to consider the wider social benefits of projects when assessing transport schemes.

Chief executive Claire Haigh said that the research demonstrated the fact that bus travel could help alleviate deprivation and improve people’s life chances. She said: “This new evidence shows that bus investment is not just a transport policy – it is a health policy, and education policy, a skills policy, a well-being policy, and a social cohesion policy.

“Bus investment can deliver truly inclusive and sustainable economic growth,” she added.

Katie Schmuecker, head of policy at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said that solving the problem of poverty was crucial in delivering the prime minister’s aim to create a country that ‘works for everyone’.

She said: “As this report shows, buses play a central part in fighting poverty, keeping those on lower incomes or the unemployed, connected to economic opportunities.”

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