£50m bus partnership funding hearty industry welcome

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Norwich benefits from a proactive local authority and the presence of well known bus operators, including First
Norwich benefits from a proactive local authority and the presence of well known bus operators, including First

Norman Baker congratulated for listening to “a grateful bus industry”

Firstgroup has already started discussions with its local authority partners, following the announcement of £50m Better Bus Areas (BBA) fund for local authority and operator partnership working last week, which has received a warm welcome from the industry.

The initiative, announced by transport minister Norman Baker, is aimed at encouraging bus operators working in partnership with local authorities to increase passenger numbers. Successful bids, which must have the backing of at least one major local bus operator, could include measures to:

  • reduce congestion;
  • provide better information to passengers;
  • make improvements to bus stations; or
  • encourage people to switch to buses from the car in densely populated urban areas.

Local authorities wishing to bid for money from the fund will be asked to submit their proposals in February to allow the Department for Transport to award funding by the end of March.

A further £10m for Community Transport schemes for 76 local authorities has also been announced as part of a £90m package, including the £50m, the £20m for a third round of the Green Bus Fund and £10m to fit pollution reduction technology to London buses.

“This package of bus measures will support growth in our economy by creating better links to work, shops and schools, as well as helping to cut carbon emissions,” said Baker. “This huge injection of £50m will encourage partnership working between good local authorities and good bus companies, which will benefit bus passengers.”

Firstgroup and Network Warrington have welcomed the £50m with great enthusiasm. Giles Fearnley, MD of First UK Bus told CBW: “It is always great to get good news, and this was totally unexpected! Huge credit is due to Norman Baker for securing this money in these constrained times.

“At First, within a couple of hours of the Minister’s announcement, we were in discussions with our local authority partners. I am confident we will be involved in a number of innovative bids. Whilst the time-scales are tight, I see that too as good news – the benefits will be delivered all the sooner!”

David Squire, MD of municipal operator Network Warrington, also congratulated Norman Baker. “They say good news comes in threes, and with the issues the country currently has, if you had asked me a month ago, would there be any good news before Christmas, then I would have said no,” he told CBW.

“However, hot on the heels of the deferred fuel duty rise, and the additional green bus fund, comes the announcement of an extra £50m, with, apparently, a wide range of measures it can be used for, as long as it is in partnership with a major local bus operator.

“I’m sure the devil will be in the detail, and as of Friday, my own local authority had no information on how it would work, however, we can’t look a gift horse in the mouth, and this new money is very welcome, particularly given the other recent news which I highlighted earlier. Well done Mr Baker, for listening, and Happy Christmas from a grateful bus industry.”

Meanwhile, David Cowdrey, head of policy & campaigns at Guide Dogs has welcomed the potential contribution funding could make to introducing audio-visual (AV) systems on buses: “This money could make a huge difference in providing passenger information and we encourage all bus operators to bid for the new money to install AV systems making buses more accessible and providing better passenger information. We believe making bus journeys more accessible to everyone will encourage people to switch from their cars to the buses.”

Cowdrey said the extra £60m announced last week could allow AV systems to be installed on 24,000 buses across the UK (based on £2,500 figure per bus from Hanover Displays in Lewes).

Guide Dogs’ Talking Buses campaign is lobbying bus companies to adopt AV announcements on board – as detailed on p26-30 of CBW1016.

New chair of ATCO (the Association of Transport Co- Ordinators), Tracy Jessop told CBW: “The fund will provide an opportunity to build on the good relationships which already exist between councils and bus operators to showcase the innovation and collaboration that effective partnerships can bring. I’m sure there will be a number of ideas on the shelf put on hold due to austerity measures. This is a welcome cash injection which could bring real benefits for the travelling public.”

The CPT’s Simon Posner also gave his support, saying: “We leap at any opportunity to help improve the services for our customers and warmly welcome this targeted and imaginative initiative.

“This is obviously a real opportunity to make a difference to local services and we look forward to working with our partners in local authorities in finding ways of using this money for the maximum benefit of our passengers.”

Posner concluded: “The number one issue for bus passengers is punctuality. We need to find new ways of tackling congestion and providing greater bus priority, thereby making travelling by bus a truly attractive option. I am sure our customers will be particularly keen to see at least some of this government initiative spent in this area and take a serious step in generating real modal shift, out of cars and onto buses.”

Stephen Morris, general manager of Bus Users UK welcomed the timely nature of the funding, commenting: “The fund is aimed at schemes to improve things for bus passengers and get more people on the bus. “It’s in everyone’s interests to get more people using buses. This funding challenge recognises the more people choose to travel by bus, the better it is for everyone: it puts out all the right messages, especially at a time when public funding is under pressure.”

Finally, Anthony Smith, CEO of Passenger Focus, said: “There are some real passenger priorities built into this funding, which we hope will bring greater satisfaction and encourage more people to use buses in their local area – adding new buses helps make bus travel a more attractive choice.”

The BBA Fund is separate from the Local Sustainable Transport Fund (LSTF), which provides £560m over four years for transport projects which will create growth and cut carbon. However, a bid for money from the BBAs or Community Transport funds may form part of a bid to the LSTF.