This week Boris Johnson launched the National Bus Strategy. At long last there is proper recognition for a mode too often ignored, despite making up two thirds of public transport journeys.
Go-Ahead has been making the case for a Bus Strategy for some years. We’re delighted that there is now national intent, and funding, to reverse the decline in bus use. With faster, more frequent and greener buses we can do even more to support economic, environmental and social wellbeing. We talked about these issues in a recent video.
We welcome the emphasis on bus priority in our towns and cities. As the Strategy states, this can create a ‘virtuous circle’ where faster and more reliable services attract more customers, and we’re no longer having to provide more vehicles just to keep the same frequency because of traffic jams. And we need to improve the experience waiting for a bus -to keep up with the improvements we’ve made on board the bus, like contactless payment, WiFi, USB points and next stop information. We’ll be saying more about this in the coming months.
Attracting customers is what its all about. Buses are a lifeline for the 25% of households that don’t have access to a car. But we need to make it easier for all kinds of people to ‘choose the bus’. For some families that could be the choice for two or three journeys a week, so they no longer need a second car that’s parked up most of time. Making the second car redundant could become part of a wider shift in attitudes, creating another virtuous circle.
Go-Ahead delivers its bus services in collaboration with partners. The Strategy highlights that partnership working in Brighton and Hove is the key reason for the area having the highest bus use in England outside London. In Brighton and Hove, and all the locations where we operate, we will build on strong relationships as we enter into more formal arrangements. Customer numbers will grow but they won’t revert to pre-Covid patterns – so we need to retain flexibility to respond quickly to new patterns of demand.
As the UK’s largest operator of electric buses, we welcome the level of ambition for a transition to zero emissions. This will need to be backed up by deliverable policies and funding models, and we will continue to work with Government and partners on these issues.
Where we’d like a bit more ambition is in public messaging as we emerge from the pandemic. We’d like to see a cross-Government principle and campaign which says ‘Walk and cycle if you can, use buses and trains, only use the car if you need to’. This would show real intent behind the Green Ten Point Plan pledge to increase use of public transport, walking and cycling. Alongside all the measures in the Bus Strategy it could drive behaviour change and contribute to wider policy aims to improve social inclusion, health and wellbeing as we emerge from the pandemic.
We will continue to engage and collaborate, nationally and locally, so that buses can do more to support a green recovery.