A long-term investment strategy for bus

Claire Haigh
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As we celebrate Catch the Bus Week, a new report warns that buses are in crisis, with local councils cutting more than 3,000 bus routes over the past eight years. With further cuts on the horizon, Claire Haigh, the Chief Executive of Greener Journeys, argues that a long-term investment strategy for buses is needed to reduce congestion and emissions and address the UK’s major infrastructure challenges.

We face a housing crisis.  The UK needs to build 300,000 new homes a year for the foreseeable future to address this crisis.   Research by KPMG demonstrates that planning and investment in local bus networks will be key to unlocking the value of housing investment[1].

New developments in urban centres can stimulate 50% more economic growth than similar developments located at the fringe, but these benefits will be diluted if traffic congestion can’t be controlled.  Unless we provide more public transport options alongside new housing, we risk bringing local roads to a standstill.

Investment in bus networks must be a priority for the Housing Infrastructure Fund.  We urge MHCLG to change the way it measures ‘value for money’ from different infrastructure schemes.  Funds are currently allocated on the basis of Land Value Uplift without any consideration of vital wider economic, social and environmental impacts.

Congestion is a major capacity challenge and constraint on growth.  Traffic congestion in the UK’ largest cities is 14% worse than it was five years ago.  DfT figures due to be published this week are likely to show this trend is worsening.

Buses are a major part of solution: a double decker bus can take 75 cars off the road.   But buses are also affected more detrimentally by congestion than any other mode.  Congestion has been causing bus speeds to slow down by on average 10% per decade, causing bus patronage to decline by 10-14%[2].

Transforming Cities Fund presents a timely opportunity to invest in bus.  Every £1 invested in local bus infrastructure can deliver more than £8 in wider economic benefits[3]. This is why Greener Journeys has commissioned Arup to undertake a study of where different bus investments can have a transformational impact on a city region’s economic performance. Part 1 of their study was published this week[4].

Finally, it is imperative that we reduce emissions.  Congestion must be tackled not only to address our capacity challenges, but also to reduce pollution.  In nose to tail traffic tailpipe emissions increase fourfold.

Buses are key to tackling our quality crisis.  Real world testing of modern diesel buses demonstrates a 95% reduction in NOx emissions compared with previous models[5].  A modern diesel bus has fewer emissions overall than a modern diesel car despite having 15 to 20 times the carrying capacity[6]

Buses are also central to delivering on our carbon reduction targets.  More than 40% of new buses sold last year were low carbon emission buses.  The bus sector has the highest penetration of low carbon emission vehicles of all modes and types of transport.  Not only have we have seen a revolution in clean bus technology – with more than 5,000 low carbon emission buses in operation[7] – but modal switch will be essential.  If everyone switched just one car journey a month to bus, there would be a billion fewer car journeys on our roads and a saving of 2 million tonnes of CO2.

Despite the vital role of the bus in addressing our major infrastructure, capacity and emissions challenges, bus patronage is declining. 

Bus networks are suffering from a perfect storm of rising congestion and the effects of disruptive changes, including online shopping, more delivery vehicles, increase in private hire vehicles, and relative low costs of motoring compared to public transport.  Moreover, as the LGA reported last week massive cuts to local authority budgets have seen a sharp reduction in supported services. A new report from Campaign for Better Transport details the extent of the damage[8].

We need a long-term investment strategy for bus. We have long-term investment strategies for road, rail, walking and cycling, but nothing for bus. This is a serious omission.

More people commute to work by bus than all other forms of public transport combined, and those bus commuters generate £64 billion in goods and services[9].

Buses provide vital access to essential services and are a lifeline for the elderly and many people on low incomes.  A 10% improvement in bus service connectivity is associated with a 3.6% reduction in social deprivation[10].

The decline in bus patronage comes at a time when it is more important than ever that we harness the potential of the bus to reduce congestion and emissions and address the UK’s major infrastructure challenges.  A long-term bus investment strategy would be an excellent first step.

[1] Sustainable Transport: the key to unlocking the benefits of new housing, KPMG for Greener Journeys and Department for Transport May 2018 https://transportknowledgehub.org.uk/case-studies/sustainable-transport-the-key-to-unlocking-the-benefits-of-new-housing/

[2] The Impact of Congestion on Bus Passengers, Greener Journeys 2016 https://greenerjourneys.com/publication/impact-congestion-bus-passengers-new-extended-version/

[3] The True Value of Local Bus Services, KPMG report for Greener Journeys 2017 https://greenerjourneys.com/publication/true-value-local-bus-services/

[4] Bus Infrastructure Investment: Ideas for Investment, ARUP July 2018

[5] The Journey of the Green Bus, Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership, 2016 https://greenerjourneys.com/publication/the-journey-of-the-green-bus/

[6] Tackling Pollution and Congestion, Greener Journeys 2017 https://greenerjourneys.com/publication/tackling-pollution-congestion/

[7] Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership, 2018

[8] Buses in Crisis, Campaign for Better Transport, July 2018

[9] Buses and Economic Growth, University of Leeds 2012 https://greenerjourneys.com/publication/buses-economic-growth-full-report/

[10] The Value of the Bus to Society, Greener Journeys 2016 https://greenerjourneys.com/publication/value-bus-society/

Image Credit: Alex S

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