The road to a national bus strategy will be challenging

Bus Strategy

In recent months there has been a lot of discussion in England about the case for government to formulate a long-term national investment strategy for buses and coaches.

Some might be puzzled why there isn’t one already. There are investment strategies for roads and railways – why not buses? After all, they account for three quarters of all journeys made by public transport in the UK.

Proponents have said that the strategy could include the following objectives:

  • Provide new and better funding for bus services;
  • Help moves to low and zero emission vehicles;
  • Support UK bus and coach manufacturing, and suppliers.

However, former transport minister Norman Baker, a keen advocate of buses during his time at the Department for Transport, has warned that it will be a challenging policy to implement.

In his regular column in Passenger Transport, Baker expresses enthusiasm for a national bus and coach strategy. However, he says that the problem is that a meaningful strategy would require a number of other government departments, including the Treasury, to get on board.

“Will it happen?” asks Baker. “Well it will need a major shift from departments other than the DfT so much will depend on the internal politics within government.

“One essential element will be ambition. It needs to be there in spades. I hope it is, though my reading of both government and indeed the Confederation of Passenger Transport is that they lack the radical edge necessary to deliver this. I hope I am wrong.”

Meanwhile, the Urban Transport Group (UTG) has cautiously welcomed calls for a national bus strategy for England but says any such strategy must not lead to reduced local decision-making on key policy issues.

In an interim position paper UTG says buses are essentially a local service. It therefore believes that decisions about bus services are best taken locally in the light of local circumstances and aspirations.

UTG continues: “We do not therefore see a role for a national bus strategy (or national infrastructure statement) in directing transport authorities implicitly or explicitly on the approach they should take on their own bus strategies, priorities and how they choose to achieve their objectives. In particular in relation to the use of the powers contained in the Bus Services Act 2017.”

However, at the same time UTG says it recognises that a strategy could have benefits. In particular:

  • Bus safety, where UTG says there is a lack of data, analysis and overarching strategy for tackling safety of buses outside London;
  • In ‘greening’ the national bus fleet – which UTG claims is being carried forward on too much of an ad-hoc basis with short term bursts of competition funding;
  • A research and development strategy for the bus sector;
  • Minimum national customer protection standards;
  • Reform of funding streams for bus services; and
  • In ensuring better integration between bus services and other modes of transport.

About the Author

This post was written by Robert Jack. Robert is Managing Editor and Publisher of Passenger Transport. He has worked as a journalist, editor and publisher in the passenger transport sector for 18 years. He has played a key role in many transport-related conferences and events.

Robert Jack

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