Boris Johnson will launch the biggest shake-up of England’s bus network in decades on Monday with a framework for franchising and a pledge to invest £3bn, including on 4,000 new zero-emissions vehicles.
The Campaign for Better Transport has stated 3,000 bus services have been cut over the past decade because of a 40 per cent cut in local authority bus funding. The reduction has particularly affected England’s smaller towns and rural areas without rail links.
As part of his strategy to “level up” England and reduce regional inequality, the UK’s prime minister will reform the privatised bus market that has existed since 1986. “Enhanced partnerships” will be formed between bus operators and local councils to promote closer collaboration.
The new strategy will see the introduction of simpler bus fares with daily price caps, increased services in the evenings and on weekends, contactless payments on all buses and integrated ticketing with the national train network. Hundreds of miles of new bus lanes will also be constructed.
The bus strategy will also see the end of the sale of diesel buses, with a transition to electric or hydrogen powered vehicles that will help meet the UK’s target to hit net zero carbon emissions by 2050.
Johnson said the bus strategy was inspired by the reforms he undertook as mayor of London, from 2008-2016, and would “make buses the transport of choice” across England as well improve the quality of life.
“Buses are lifelines and liberators, connecting people to jobs they couldn’t otherwise take, driving pensioners and young people to see their friends, sustaining town centres and protecting the environment,” he said.
Grant Shapps, transport secretary, added that “the quality of bus service you receive shouldn’t be dependent on where you live” and admitted that services had become “patchy”.
“We will provide unprecedented funding, but we need councils to work closely with operators and the government to develop the services of the future,” Shapps said.
The Unite union, which represents 70,000 bus workers, said the strategy was an acknowledgment that the 1980s deregulation of buses under Margaret Thatcher’s Tory government was a “complete failure”.
Bobby Morton, the union’s national officer for passenger transport, said: “Fares have increased, services have reduced, private operators cherry-pick the most profitable routes and social exclusion has mushroomed as connectivity has been cut.”
Morton said the new strategy would “reduce some of the worst excesses of the privatised bus system”, but added “there appears to be little new money being provided and what is available does not replace what has been removed from bus services as a result of over a decade of Conservative cuts”.
The Confederation of Passenger Transport, which represents the UK’s bus industry, welcomed the plans and the potential “step-change” away from cars.
Graham Vidler, chief executive, said: “Local targets for passenger growth and quicker journeys will ensure local accountability and a shared commitment to delivering better services for passengers.”
David Brown, chief executive of Go-Ahead group, said bus usage had been falling for seven years and welcomed the strategy to encourage Britons to leave their cars at home.
“A full double-decker bus can take as many as 75 private cars off the road, so the benefits of buses in cutting pollution and reducing traffic jams are as clear as daylight.”