Bus modal shift needs holistic policy, report says

Modal shift to bus requires comprehensive policy package

Piecemeal interventions will not lead to the significant modal shift to bus that is required if the UK is to meet its net zero obligations, a report from WPI Economics and commissioned by the Confederation of Passenger Transport (CPT) has concluded. Instead, a wide-ranging, holistic and properly funded policy package is needed urgently.

The report analyses the potentially major role that switching car journeys to coach and bus could have in that. WPI estimates that across Great Britain, the scale of modal shift required is 26 more bus journeys per person per year. That would lead to an 82% increase in bus use by 2050. The report’s authors say that while such change is achievable, “an ambitious strategy will be needed.”

Current bus policy trajectory will see the required modal shift to missed by a large margin, the report projects. While increasing the cost of motoring is acknowledged as a potential way to leverage that, WPI says such a step it would be “prohibitively large,” and that motoring costs would need to be 137% higher in real terms in 2050 than they are today.

Making buses free at the point of use is also discounted by the report on the grounds of cost, and hence WPI offers that a policy package is necessary involving:

  • Increasing buses’ attractiveness
  • Making buses cheaper to use, but not free
  • Discouraging car use
  • Behavioural interventions to influence consumer choices.

“It is clear that the appropriate combination of these policies will vary between locations,” the report notes. “The key finding is that relying on just one or two… would be unlikely to deliver the scale and type of policy change needed.”

More ambitious investment in bus services and infrastructure would cost around £1.1bn annually but deliver “over 6bn” additional bus journeys over the same horizon. The report also advocates a “bus bonus” salary sacrifice scheme and a permanent £2 fare cap. Congestion charging by local authorities would also lead to 250m fewer car journeys if applied comprehensively, it states.

Increasing the attractiveness of bus services in England would require estimated funding to deliver on all requested Bus Service Improvement Plan (BSIP) investment, rather than the small part of overall BSIP submissions that has been indicatively funded thus far.

CPT has highlighted that a reduction in congestion and a transfer of journeys to bus would deliver significant benefits financially, to productivity, to health, to the jobs market and access to it, and to access to services.

Speaking about the report’s findings, WPI Economics Research Director Matthew Oakley says: “A holistic policy package combining an urgent range of sensible interventions will make coaches and buses the natural choice over cars. Without significant step change to government policy, current decarbonisation targets will not be met.”

Download the WPI report here.