How do we tackle the decline in bus travel – a UK case study


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A recent report from BBC Radio West Midlands confirmed there has been a 12% decline in passenger journeys made by bus in the region since 2008. This represents a loss of over 37 million passenger journeys in less than 5 years.

This dramatic decline in bus journeys is not isolated to one region but a sign of a national malaise with London and the South of England being the only regions to buck the trend.

The Annual Bus Statistics report from the Department of Transport (DfT) corroborates the change in bus passenger travel across the Great Britain.


So what is causing the decline and what are the UK trying to do about it?

According to figures from the DfT bus fares have increased in England by 33 per cent between March 2007 and June 2012 with a greater increase seen in metropolitan areas (40 per cent) and a lesser rise in London (31 per cent) and non-metropolitan areas (28 per cent). These increased fares are well above the retail price index of 18 per cent covering the same period.

In London the picture is more encouraging. London has seen an increase in bus passenger numbers year on year. In 2011/2012 there was an increase of passenger numbers from 2.32 billion to 2.4 billion. This increase is not totally representative of bus travel across the capital because of the higher portion of users in Inner London. In Outer London the car is still the preferred mode of transport.

How do we increase passenger numbers and decarbonise our public transport system?

Interestingly, the DfT has a number of initiatives in progress. Reform of the Bus Service Operators Grant (BSOG) a subsidy paid to bus operators in England is a key policy change being considered by the Government. The original aim of the BSOG was to “benefit passengers by helping bus operators keep their fares down and enabling operators to run marginal services that might not otherwise be profitable.”

In 2011/12, around £450 million was paid to bus operators in England through the BSOG. However, a recent DfT review revealed the current BSOG is linked to fuel consumption. This suggests the BSOG is poorly targeted and not aligned to the UK’s carbon emission reduction targets.

A report “Green Light for Buses” published in March 2012 outlines further initiatives being taken.

The initiatives include:

  • The Green Bus Fund – encourages bus operators and local authorities to invest in low carbon buses in collaboration with suppliers of clean vehicle technology
  • Smarter Ticketing – supports the co-ordination of public transport by improving boarding speeds for passengers and facilitating seamless through journeys on a single ticket or travelcard. The DfT goal is for the majority of public transport journeys to be undertaken using smart ticketing technology by December 2014
  • Better Bus Areas – a £50 million Better Bus Area Fund to promote passenger growth through collaboration between bus companies and local councils.

Moving forward there is a degree of optimism that the Government understands the scale of the problem and is starting to address the issues holding back our public transport system.

About the Author Michael Fuller

Michael is a freelance consultant with over 20 years’ experience in industry. He holds an MSc in Climate Change & Sustainable Development and is a member of the Energy Institute. He is passionate about the sustainable future of our planet and is keen to promote a cleaner, safer and healthier environment for future generations. His professional interests include renewable energy, smart networks and sustainable transport.

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