Boris Johnson's £3bn bus plan branded 'sticking plaster' for ailing network

Boris Johnson today announces a ‘£3bn bus revolution’ to ‘level up’ Britain’s buses.

But campaigners warned the new plan is an “expensive sticking plaster” for the nation’s ailing bus network.

The PM will today publish his plan to make buses more frequent, cheaper and greener.

Bus companies will have to enter “enhanced partnerships” with councils or new “franchising agreements” in order to get access to the new cash.

Under the deal, fares will have to be capped at a daily limit, more weekend services will be required and all buses will have to accept contactless payments like London’s Oyster system.

And the PM will promise 4,000 new electric or hydrogen buses to provide zero-emission travel.

But campaigners said greedy bus firms would still be “in the driving seat” of the new arrangements.

And it’s feared less popular routes could be scrapped entirely, and replaced by “on demand” minibuses booked through an app.

“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,” Sam Tarry, Labour ’s Shadow Bus Minister said.

“People will be wondering when they return to work whether there will be enough affordable and regular buses for their daily commute.

“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.

“The Government must do more to protect this crucial sector – not least given we’ve already seen more than 1,000 jobs lost in the bus and coach manufacturing industry alone since the pandemic started.”

It's thought some regular rural routes could be scrapped entirely and replaced with "on demand" minibuses
It’s thought some regular rural routes could be scrapped entirely and replaced with “on demand” minibuses

The Department for Transport (DFT) will also announce today the recipients of £20 million worth of Rural Mobility Funding to pay for trials of “on demand” minibuses to replace underused bus routes.

Announcing the strategy, Boris Johnson said: ““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.

“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.”

“The fragmented, fully-commercialised market which has operated outside London since 1986 will end. We want to see operators and local councils enter into a statutory “enhanced partnership” or franchising agreements to receive the new funding and deliver the improvements.”

Pascale Robinson of campaign group We Own It welcomed the new funding.

But she warned it “won’t go anywhere near far enough to deliver the improvements our ailing bus network desperately needs.”

Bus firms will still be “in the driving seat”, campaigners warned

“The government appears to be steering councils towards a “partnership” model with private bus companies, which is incredibly costly and leaves the bus companies firmly in the driving seat and still de-regulated,” she said.

“We need a fundamental overhaul of our approach to the bus network.

“The government needs to make it much easier to bring buses into public control and reverse the ban on publicly owned bus companies so councils can run services directly.

“That’s how we’ll get a bus network that runs for passengers, not for private profit.”

Unite’s national officer for passenger transport Bobby Morton said the strategy was a “missed opportunity”.

“The National Bus Strategy is an admission that the 1980s deregulation of the bus service has been a complete failure,” he said.

“While the franchising and enhanced partnership plans should help to reduce some of the worst excesses of the privatised bus system such proposals must be compulsory or it will result in improvements in some areas while others are left behind.”

And Tom Fyans, Director of Campaign and Policy at CPRE, the countryside charity said: “A one-off investment of £3 billion is really just an expensive sticking plaster after a decade of cuts to rural bus services – we need to aim much higher.

Our towns and villages need committed, long-term funding to deliver a comprehensive bus network for the whole country, with a reliable service for every community.”


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