£3bn ‘levelling-up’ plan to bring bus fare caps and hundreds of miles of new bus lanes
The government plans to introduce hundreds of miles of new bus lanes, cap daily fares and add 4,000 hydrogen buses to England’s routes as part of a £3 billion investment plan.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that better bus services around the country will be one of the first acts of “levelling-up” as the country rebuilds after the Covid-19 pandemic.
Under the plans, bus services will become more frequent, cheaper and easier to use in an effort to entice people from their cars and onto public transport.
However, critics say the plans lack ambition and aren’t enough to undo decades of damage caused to bus services under deregulation.
Among the key elements of the new strategy are the creation of hundreds of miles of bus lanes to give public transport clear routes free from traffic.
The plan will also see daily fare caps so people can pay a simple rate and use the bus as often as they need and a requirement for all operators to accept contactless payment.
Operators will also be expected to run more evening and weekend services and work with other public transport providers to integrate services and ticketing across modes of transport.
The Department for Transport said it wanted local councils and operators working together to deliver services so frequent that they won’t require a traditional timetable and instead passengers will be able to simply “turn up and go” without a long wait.
Mr Johnson also said the Government would look to ban diesel buses and introduce a fleet of 4,000 British-built electric or hydrogen-fuelled vehicles.
Transport Minister Grant Shapps claimed: “Buses are this country’s favourite way of getting around.
“But services across England are patchy and it’s frankly not good enough.”
Government data from 2019 shows that seven per cent of commuters used buses while 68 per cent used a private car. Bus use has fallen steadily over the last 10 years, with journeys down from 4.64bn in 2009 to 4.32 in 2019.
Mr Johnson said: "As we build back from the pandemic, better buses will be one of our first acts of levelling-up.
"Just as they did in London, our reforms will make buses the transport of choice, reducing the number of car journeys and improving quality of life for millions."
Bus use in London has also fallen consistently since 2013/14 and is down 1.4 per cent compared with 2009.
Labour’s shadow bus secretary Sam Tarry said: "This so-called strategy offers nothing for those who were looking for a bold vision to reverse the millions of miles of bus routes lost across the country.
"The Tories said deregulation would improve our buses but they're running bus services into the ground. Passengers now face a toxic mix of rising fares, cuts to services and reduced access."
Mick Cash, general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union, said the strategy appeared to "lack ambition" and called for ring-fenced national funding to provide support via a publicly-owned operator.
And the Campaign to Protect Rural England said parts of rural England were “transport deserts” and the one-off investment was a “sticking plaster” that would do little to address decades of cuts.
Graham Vidler, chief executive of the Confederation of Passenger Transport (CPT) called the strategy "a huge opportunity for a step-change in bus use” but warned that it needed to be matched by consistent policy across branches of the Government and proper delivery at a local level.