CPT Bus strategy: Is this a pivotal moment?

Partnership working should be at the heart of buses’ future. That is the message from the Confederation of Passenger Transport (CPT), which launched its bus strategy, Moving Forward Together, on Monday (9 September).

The document articulates the vision of CPT’s bus industry members to transform services in England by 2030. It outlines a set of promises that they will make if the government does the same and agrees to work with, and commit funding to, the sector.

Based on that work, CPT is now calling on Westminster to work with it to develop a National Bus Strategy.

Moving Forward Together asks several things of the government. Among them are an incentivisation of local authorities (LAs) to reduce journey times; establishment of a working group to identify solutions in rural areas; and to endorsement of operators as the preferential delivery partners for smart ticketing.

CPT is also asking the government for a long-term continuation of its support for the extra initial costs of ultra-low and zero emission buses; to assist with the development of their supporting infrastructure; and to help the UK’s manufacturers on their journey.

Industry commitment

Chief among the industry’s reciprocal promises it that it will only purchase next-generation ultra-low or zero emission buses from 2025.

To make what CPT Chief Executive Graham Vidler describes as “a simple offer” a reality, Westminster will also be called upon to work with electricity and fuel suppliers to ensure that the relevant infrastructure is funded.

That alone will require substantial investment. CPT estimates the cost of upgrading a single depot at up to £2m, suggesting an investment of as much as £200m will be needed for the connection of key urban garages.

Besides its pledge regarding new bus purchases, the strategy outlines a commitment from the operators to developing a closer partnership with suppliers and manufacturers, allowing greater certainty about future volumes.

It is hoped that will drive economies of scale, allowing the unit cost to reduce. Additionally, the industry will commit to maximising its investment in Euro 6 retrofit of older vehicles.

Journey times

Slower journey times aree a bane of the industry. CPT estimates that they increase by 10% each decade. That fosters a cycle of decline that can only be reversed with LA intervention. That will involve a concerted effort, but CPT wants to see it become reality.

Buses Minister Baroness Vere, who attended Monday’s launch, was predictably reluctant to be drawn on how the government can act to reduce car usage. She points out that LAs already have access to transport funding that can contribute to bus priority.

The Baroness was also quizzed on whether LAs should have targets for their contribution to bus punctuality, just as operators do.

It’s unlikely that the current government would impose such requirements, but Transport Focus Chief Executive Anthony Smith believes that air quality concerns are likely to force LAs’ hands eventually.

In return for work to improve journey times, the industry will commit to reinvesting all of the savings generated in better services in a bid to break the cycle. It will also work with LAs to set targets for improved journey times, reliability and increased patronage.

Other initiatives

As a further part of the industry’s commitment to communities, the strategy proposes a nationwide approach to discounted travel for apprentices and jobseekers. Operators will meet the costs of that.

Additionally, the industry will commit to trialling methods of improving mobility in rural areas. The current approaches often do not work, although Mr Vidler cautions that demand responsive transport is not the panacea that some parties believe it is.

Simplifying ticketing is another part of the industry’s offer to government. If it is granted access to data to allow it to build better digital solutions, then the strategy commits to delivering multi-operator price-capped contactless daily and weekly tickets in major urban areas by 2022.

The strategy additionally calls on the government to avoid making sudden, radical changes to BSOG.

Baroness Vere confirmed that a BSOG overhaul is in the works. CPT recognises the need for it to be focused on cleaner vehicles. However, it cautions that any changes are best made in a phased manner, and that doing otherwise would represent a threat to service stability.

There is much else in the strategy paper. It must be hoped that the government takes on the industry’s offer and runs with it.

Comment

CPT’s bus strategy has been a long time coming. On a first reading, it seems that it has been worth the wait.

Its unveiling was pre-empted by announcements last week concerning new money for buses. Perhaps finally they are gaining recognition from politicians.

As Baroness Vere says, the CPT’s bus strategy greatly improves the industry’s sphere of influence in the corridors of power. There is now a document that outlines what operators will do in return for commitments from the government. The importance of that cannot be underestimated.

Those promises can be used by politicians to justify the allocation of money to buses. They can hold the industry to account if it does not deliver. And that is only fair.

Unveiling of the strategy could be one of the most important moments for the bus industry in many years.

read the full strategy here