Bus 2020, the planet and Liverpool: spot the connection

Anthony Smith
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Passenger Focus is a consumer organisation – we believe in choice. Making public transport a better choice is the most effective way to get more people on board. In the absence of competition, as in much public transport provision, having some sort of consumer voice helps redress the balance. But the main competition for bus travel is the car. If you want bus travel to be attractive it must match or beat car journey times.

Greener Journeys’ Bus 2020 agenda is really helpful in this respect. The key finding, that making bus journeys faster, more reliable and more frequent will ensure existing passengers are happy and attract more to use the service, is spot on.

The news that Liverpool City Council has voted for a nine-month suspension of the city’s bus lanes is alarming. It seems ironic that this decision coincided with the UN climate change report on the effect of man’s activities on the planet!

The claim they have not helped promote people shifting from car travel is a very poor argument. People make their transport choices on fine balances of cost and convenience. Through our Bus Passenger Survey – the next wave of which is currently being carried out – we will be able to plot the impact of this trial.

At the moment Liverpool’s passengers rate their buses quite highly. The reasons behind bus travel numbers being relatively static outside of London are complex. Ticket prices, planning decisions, car park charges, the quality of services, support for non-commercial services and bus-stop sites all play a part.

However, from our research we know that bus punctuality is a key factor that underpins passenger’s everyday satisfaction. Good timekeeping helps bus to be a good transport choice. Punctuality is the most important factor that passengers want to see improved across the country.

Removing bus lanes will probably have one effect – bus will cease to be such a good choice. So those who rely on bus travel have a worse experience and others will go back to using cars. Let’s hope the trial is properly evaluated and the effects understood.

As we know from other research it can be very hard to reach those passengers who have ‘disappeared’ from the system. Their voice is not heard and the effect on them of these sorts of decisions little understood. See our report on the effects of bus cuts for some idea.

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