Bus use falls as fares rise

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DfT statistics unclear if news is a fluctuation or the start of a trend

Total bus usage in England fell by around 1.3% in 2012/13 due to a levelling of usage in London and continuation of the long-term downward trend in usage outside London, according to provisional statistics from the DfT.

An estimated 4.62bn bus passenger journeys were made in the year to March 2013, around 60m fewer than during the previous year. Prior to this, total bus passenger numbers in England had changed very little since reaching a 20-year high in 2008/09, with an upward trend in London offsetting a downward trend in the rest of England. However it is too early to assess whether this is a fluctuation or the start of a trend.

Half of bus journeys in England were made in London, where usage was broadly unchanged in the year to March 2013, but has doubled since the mid-1990s, over a period in which public funding for London buses increased rapidly.

Outside London, usage fell 2.5% over the latest year, and is now around 6% lower than the 2008/09 peak. This represents a resumption of a long-term downward trend which was temporarily reversed by the introduction in 2006 and extension in 2008 of statutory free concessionary travel for older people on buses.

Fares in England rose nearly 5% over the year to March 2013, a slightly slower rate of increase than in recent years, but continuation of the general long term pattern of above-inflation increases (inflation measured by the RPI was 3.3% in March 2013).

The local bus fares index measures percentage change in bus operator receipts from passengers as a result of any fare changes. These figures provide an estimate of change in the average cost of bus travel to the passenger, but not the actual fare levels paid (which can vary due to changes in the mix of journeys made and other factors).

Between March 2007 and March 2013, average bus fares increased 37%, with similar rises in London and the rest of England over this period as a whole. This compares with a 22% increase in the all items retail prices index (RPI), which means fares have increased in real terms over this period.

English bus fares increased by an average annual growth rate of 5.5% a year over the period March 2007 to March 2012, broadly in line with rail fares but well below the average annual growth in motor fuel (petrol and oil) pump prices (9%).

In the most recent year, to March 2013, bus fares have risen 4.7%, again broadly in line with the change of 4.5% in rail fares. Motor fuel increased 1.4% over the same period.

Campaign for Better Transport’s CEO Stephen Joseph warned: “If the Chancellor uses this week’s spending round to cut support further, then we could see whole networks of bus services being lost.”

The next Quarterly Bus Statistics, for Q2 (March to June) 2013 are due to be published in autumn 2013.