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February 13 2019
By Jessica Barton

Jessica writes for routeone, Group Tourism & Travel, and is the Editor of Coach Drivers Club News

UK Bus Summit 2019: Teamwork makes the dream work

Transport Times held its 5th annual UK Bus Summit last week. It provided food for thought on the challenges and opportunities the bus industry faces

If there’s one thing that all the speakers at this year’s UK Bus Summit can agree on, it’s that the bus industry can only continue to thrive through meaningful partnerships.

Held at the QEII Centre last Wednesday (7 February), the conference brought together key industry professionals to discuss the current status of the bus industry, what has and is being done to improve it, and what must be done to ensure a fruitful future.

The summit is held at the heart of Westminster to elevate the importance of bus

Addressing the audience in her keynote speech, Transport Minister Nusrat Ghani stressed the importance partnerships.

“I am a firm believer that partnerships are the quickest and most effective way of improving bus services, especially collaboration between operators and local authorities,” she says.

“They must work more closely together to identify problems and do something about them to build a bright future for this industry.”

Tackling wider issues

Ms Ghani announced the names of the 19 successful bidders that will receive funding from the Ultra-Low Emission Bus Scheme to buy new low emission buses and invest in infrastructure, such as charge points.

Transport Minister Nusrat Ghani 

She also announced that the DfT is launching a ‘major collaboration’ with Greener Journeys to explore how buses can be used to further address the issue of loneliness.

“There’s some really imaginative thinking going on in the industry to examine if there’s more we can do,” says Ms Ghani, referencing Go-Ahead’s Chatty Bus campaign and Stagecoach’s community bus.

“This is just the first step and there is huge potential for the transport industry to make a real difference to the lives of people who want more human contact.”

As well as tackling loneliness, the topic of how buses can help with the decline of the high street was raised. 

“While the industry has been debating about regulations, our city centres have been decaying,” says Go-Ahead Chief Executive, David Brown.

The response by towns and cities has been to offer cheaper car parking, but this is not the answer.

“We should be going more at local level to influence regeneration and we need to articulate a national vision of how buses contribute to vibrant centres. It’s an opportunity for us to reduce car dependency and promote the bus.

“Loneliness, social inclusion, urban centres, air quality, public health – buses contribute solutions to all these challenges facing society,” says Mr Brown.

The golden thread

Echoing the sentiments of the power of partnerships, David Bradford, MD of National Express West Midlands, focused on the work the operator is doing as part of its role in the West Midlands Bus Alliance.

“In 2017 we started changing the network, moving bus stops around and building better bus infrastructure. In 2018 our buses got faster, and customer satisfaction continues to improve.

“All of this is all part of the West Midlands Bus Alliance. Partnership is the golden thread running through this,” he says.

First Bus MD Giles Fearnley referred to last week’s report that bus passenger numbers in England fell in 2017/18 [routeone/News/6 February].

“But the headlines are far from the whole truth,” he says, referencing examples of areas where bus usage increased in that period, such as Bristol.

“This growth is a pay-off from shared investment over many years, as well as shared vision and aspiration.”

For other areas to replicate this growth, he urges local authorities to work in ‘ambitious partnership’ with their bus operators.

“Together we can deliver our ambitions and deliver growing networks for our businesses and, most importantly, our communities,” says Mr Fearnley.

Passengers at centre

With Scotland’s first Low Emission Zone (LEZ) introduced in Glasgow at the end of last year, Cllr Anna Richardson from Glasgow City Council was keen to outline the process of implementing the LEZ.

Questions and discussions are encourgaed and welcomed by the panel 

“At the time of devising the policy, only 12-14% of buses in Glasgow were Euro 6, with a significant proportion still Euro 3 or 4,” she says.

“With this scale of investment ahead, we were all conscious of possible unintended consequences that might hit our more vulnerable communities the hardest. So, we’ve worked very much in partnership with bus operators to ensure that we wouldn’t put in place requirements that could lead to routes being cut or fares being increased.”

The LEZ has brought opportunities, she adds. Namely that there is now a record number of brand-new buses on Glasgow roads gaining attention.

“These new buses have enabled us to communicate to residents about the advantages of the LEZ and will increase the attractiveness of taking the bus,” says Ms Richardson.

Furthermore, with the Glasgow Bus Partnership established last year, she says: “It will allow us to develop shared objectives and work together more constructively than ever and, crucially, ensure passengers are at the centre of everything we do.”

routeone comment

The summit provides the opportunity for operators, councillors and other industry professionals to come together and discuss the challenges the sector faces and how each of them are playing a part in coming up with solutions.

Whether that’s tackling personal issues in communities, such as loneliness, improving air quality and public health, or working to increase patronage through a variety of initiatives, they each have a role to play in the success of the industry.

Go-Ahead’s David Brown urged delegates to bring people from other public sectors to next year’s UK Bus Summit to reach out to people beyond the industry. It’s a great idea that will help spread the word further of the advantages that buses have on the health of the public and the health of the environment.

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