Britain’s Buses, an Engine for Growth

Claire Haigh
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The publication of Buses and Economic Growth in 2012 laid out for the first time, clearly and unequivocally, how buses support the wider economy.  Building on this foundation, and in partnership with the Department for Transport, Greener Journeys commissioned the University of Leeds to do a follow up study, which was published earlier this month.

Buses and the Economy II explores in greater depth three key areas: how buses enable a well-functioning labour market; how they support strong town centres; and, how they fulfil a social insurance role both for people who use the bus regularly and for those who do not.

We learnt from Buses and Economic Growth that 2.5 million use the bus to get to work with a further 1 million using bus as back up mode.  400,000 bus commuters are either in work or in better more productive jobs as a direct result of the access to jobs which buses provide. In the follow up study, we asked the University of Leeds to turn the spotlight on the unemployed and the role which bus service can play in getting people into employment.

The findings provide compelling evidence of a significant relationship between bus accessibility and employment.  For example, econometric modelling revealed that if bus journey times for commuters in England could be improved by just 10% this would be associated with more than 50,000 additional people in employment.  In policy assessment terms, allowing for this employment impact would increase the benefit of bus accessibility improvements by a further 9-10% on top of their direct transport benefits.

People in urban areas who are currently unemployed and seeking work depend heavily on the bus for access to employment.  In June/July 2013 just under 1,000 unemployed individuals attending Job Centre Plus offices were interviewed.  Some very basic findings conditioned many of the results.  For example, 57% did not have full car or motorcycle driving license, with 77% having no regular access to a car van or motorbike, this rising to 87% for 18-24 year olds.

The reliance of this group on buses is borne out by the high proportion who would use the bus to get to work.  58% of the job seekers surveyed use buses when in work, this rising to 72% for those who have no car available.  This dependence is particularly acute for the young unemployed.  Over four-fifths of unemployed 18-24 year olds are strongly reliant buses, and almost a quarter of have missed out on job opportunities because of no available bus service to get them there.

A key conclusion of Buses and Economic Growth was that the bus is a vital artery for shopping and leisure trips.  Bus users make 1.4 billion shopping and leisure trips per year with an estimated spend of £27 billion, £22 billion of which is spent in towns and city centres.  In the follow up studywe asked the University of Leeds to look in more depth at the nature of the retail and entertainment market and the role of the bus within it.

The bus emerges as a key mode of access to towns and city centres.  Bus has largest market share of retail and leisure trips to city centres at 33% (versus 30% for car, and 22% for walking and cycling).  And bus users are responsible for 29% of total expenditure on retail and entertainment in city centres.  Overall bus users contribute 22% of expenditure on retail and entertainment across all locations.

The top reasons cited for choosing bus include: that it is less expensive, easier or more convenient, avoids parking difficulties, or having no car available.  For those with limited car availability, bus accounts for over a third of all shopping trips. Without bus services, 16% of bus users would not have undertaken their planned activity.

The final key area explored was how buses provide a form of social insurance.  People place significant value on having the option of a bus available, whether they use it or not, plus any social or community value they have on behalf of others.  In Buses and Economic Growth we found that people are willing to pay over and above their fares to have a bus service available to them (even if they have a car) as part of the urban fabric giving a gross option value of £700 million.

In the follow up study we asked the University of Leeds to explore the option value of having a bus service in a specifically rural context.  To do this they studied the value which local residents in Market Drayton, Bridgenorth and Much Wenlock place on the existence of the hourly bus services linking them to the county town Shrewsbury.  They found that people place a significant option value, on average £122 per household per year, on the existence of the bus service over and above the value of the trips they actually make. The Shrewsbury case study gives a clear indication that the social insurance value of low frequency but regular bus services of this kind is appreciable.

Since the publication of Buses and Economic Growth in 2012, recognition of the wider economic value of bus services has grown. The same trip on the same day may be used for trips for commuting, education, shopping, recreation and leisure, personal business, visiting friends and relations, access to health care and other purposes.   I hope that Buses and the Economy II will further cement recognition of the vital role the bus plays in facilitating a large number of important economic and social linkages.

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