A bus strategy without bus drivers?

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Roger Brereton, Head of Sales at parts supplier Pailton Engineering. PAILTON

With emergency funding to the bus sector having finished in October 2022, is the UK Government’s national strategy up to the task of resolving the many challenges facing England’s buses? Roger Brereton, Head of Sales at bus steering system manufacturer Pailton Engineering, argues there is a glaring omission in the Government’s current plans

Buses are the most used form of public transport in the UK. Outside of London, over half of all journeys on public transport in 2019 were on buses. They are essential to many communities, and especially relied on by people and groups from disadvantaged backgrounds. Buses will be vital in ensuring key Government objectives, such as reaching net zero by 2050 and levelling up.

Declining ridership on buses has been a long-term problem stretching back over many years. The de-regulation of bus services in the 1980s, partially intended to halt this decline, failed to reverse the trend. The pandemic accelerated the decline, with many people understandably feeling unsafe using buses. However, at the time of writing (late 2022), bus ridership has only returned to approximately 80% of pre-Covid-19 levels. There are genuine concerns that this represents a ‘new normal’ for the sector as a result of wider societal changes, like increased remote working and internet shopping. Commuter journeys, for example, are still 25% below pre-covid levels.

Emergency funding for buses, originally scheduled to end in April, was extended to October 2022. Without this additional funding, it will be difficult for many bus services to remain commercially viable. Passenger fares typically fund around 60% of bus services, so a permanent drop in ridership could have a devastating impact.

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