Small number of Bus Service Improvement Plans ‘a bit rubbish’

Minority of Bus Service Improvement Plans to be returned to submitting LAs

A small number of Bus Service Improvement Plans (BSIPs) submitted by local transport authorities (LTAs) in England are “a bit rubbish” and will be returned by the government for further work, Under-Secretary of State for Transport Baroness Vere revealed at the first day of the Confederation of Passenger Transport UK Bus and Coach Conference on 25 January.

Funding allocations for Bus Service Improvement Plans from the reduced amount available are currently being devised, with an announcement on those sums expected soon. Underlining the point made in a letter sent to LTAs by Department for Transport (DfT) Deputy Director, Bus Recovery and Reform, Local Transport Sharon Madix on 11 January, Lady Vere adds that there must be an acceptance of “a mixed economy” in those awards. 

DfT will attempt to understand why some LTAs have not been as ambitious as was outlined in the National Bus Strategy (NBS), and it will support those authorities in improving their BSIPs. But the minister balances concern around a minority of BSIPs by describing “the vast majority” of them as “brilliant.” Opportunity already exists for the sharing of that best practice, she adds. 

Despite widespread concern surrounding the cut to £1.4bn of funding that will support NBS policies over the coming three financial years, Lady Vere says she is “content” with where government financial support for the bus sector in England sits. 

Accepting that the aggregate call for funding across all BSIPs is far above what DfT can provide, she claims that the sum available still represents “a lot of money.” NBS work is about commencing a longer transformation of the bus sector and the attitudes shown towards it by non-users. 

Preparation of ambitious BSIP measures – even if they are not funded – is important to help LTAs think in the right way about buses as part of that longer-term journey and their approach to local transport, she continues. Formation of productive Enhanced Partnerships is also key to delivery of improvements. 

Bus priority measures are something that government is particularly keen to see. They represent a clear incentive for car users to switch mode, Lady Vere says. However, she adds that Westminster has no target for a reduction of car journeys in England. The government will not “micromanage” the use of modes and there is no expectation that car use will decrease “on a massive scale.” 

That contrasts with efforts in Scotland, where the Scottish Government is aiming for a 20% reduction in car kilometres travelled by 2030. Lady Vere describes that work as representing “an enormous amount of resource and meddling,” questioning how politicians can tell people that they may not drive their own vehicles. 

She also rebuffed calls for five-year funding settlements to be agreed for the bus industry in England in the same way that they are for Network Rail and National Highways. That those bodies are required to plan for major infrastructure improvements, while the bus industry is not, was cited. 

Planning work on the development of the Bus Centre of Excellence promised by Bus Back Better is still underway. No information is available on when it may open.