We must make better use of our roads

Claire Haigh
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Buses are the lifeblood of the UK economy.  Every year, buses take millions of people all over this country to work.  Those commuters create goods and services with a value of £64 billion.

Buses have a vital part to play in addressing a stubborn barrier to Britain’s long term prosperity: traffic congestion in urban areas.   According to the Cabinet Office, such congestion costs the UK economy at least £11 billion per year.

We at Greener Journeys believe that the solution is to make better use of existing road capacity. More investments are needed in local bus infrastructure and selective priority measures, such as bus lanes, junction priorities, bus gates and quality bus corridors.  When they are implemented correctly in the right places, selective priority measures can make transport networks work more efficiently.  The end results for bus users include more reliable services, fewer delays and shorter journey times.  Such improvements in the quality of bus services would also encourage a modal shift from cars to public transport.

Detailed analysis produced for Greener Journeys by KPMG LLP shows that better network performance would reduce the costs associated with delays.  There would be wider economic benefits as well.  Businesses could link up more easily with new suppliers. Consumers would have better access to a wider range of retailers.  The labour market would work more efficiently, with people and their skills better matched to job opportunities. There would also be benefits to the environment including reduced congestion and improvements to peoples’ quality of life through better local air quality and lower noise levels.

KPMG has estimated that targeted investment in local bus infrastructure and selective priority measures would typically generate £3.32 of net economic benefit for each £1 of cost incurred.  This level of return of represents high value for money according to the Department for Transport’s appraisal guidance.

The challenge is how to make sure that these benefits can be delivered in the most efficient way possible.  From 2015, the Department for Transport will devolve much of its capital funding to the Local Growth Fund, with Local Enterprise Partnerships making the decisions on spending.  Under this new regime, transport initiatives will need to compete for capital investment with other growth initiatives.  It will be more important to make sure that local decision makers are fully aware of the key role that buses play in supporting economic activity.

In contrast to the rail network and the strategic road network, there is no national strategy or policy framework covering investment in improved bus services.  The Government has not published a statement explaining what it expects the bus sector to deliver in return for public funds and resources.

We believe that national and local government, working in partnership with local bus operators, should take the lead in delivering improvements in bus infrastructure. This is the best way to make sure that co-ordinated local growth initiatives can realise their full potential.

We are, therefore, calling upon the Government to issue a National Statement on Local Bus Infrastructure to help encourage local decision makers to commit to a strategic long term programme for investment in bus infrastructure schemes.

The National Statement would aim to improve bus service quality and more specifically: to promote investment in local bus infrastructure to increase network reliability, reduce journey times and enhance the passenger experience; to encourage greater partnership working between local authorities and bus operators in developing new schemes and realising the full benefits of existing schemes; and, to provide passengers and operators with a degree of certainty on the future development of their networks by asking local decision makers to set out what they want the bus sector to deliver and to commit to a strategic long term programme for investment.

The National Statement would provide a focal point for local bus infrastructure policy and practice.  The contents would include: a clear statement of the Secretary of State’s vision for local bus infrastructure; examples of best practice approaches to scheme development and partnership working and advice on investment appraisal; and, documentation of current and committed bus infrastructure schemes.

We envision that, over time, the National Statement could develop in the same way as the Higher Level Output Specification and Road Investment Strategy, including benchmark standards for key strategic outcomes such as average journey times, service reliability and passenger satisfaction.   There could also be a dedicated fund to promote investment in innovative infrastructure schemes and demonstration projects.

The Buses & Economic Growth report published in 2012 laid out for the first time, clearly and unequivocally, how buses support the wider economy.  Since then, evidence of the wider economic impact of buses has continued to grow.  We hope, therefore, that our proposed National Statement on Bus Infrastructure will be taken forward.  Such a Statement could lead to increased investment in local bus infrastructure and improved network performance and, in turn, a more prosperous economy.

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