Road pricing, public transport tax credits and a national marketing campaign are among proposals set out in a six-point plan submitted by Stagecoach to the UK government.
The plan comes ahead of this year’s Autumn Budget and spending review and calls for a clear roadmap to decarbonisation and stimulus package to incentivise a return to bus use in Britain.
Bus use lagging behind cars
Stagecoach bus journeys have “plateaued” at 70% of pre-pandemic levels according to the operator, while data from the Department for Transport suggests that car use stands at 111% of pre-pandemic levels.
Reform of motoring taxation thus forms a major part of the proposals. Stagecoach has joined others in calling for a pay-per-mile taxation to be introduced for private cars to “increase awareness of the true cost of motoring and support a shift to available public transport or active travel alternatives”.
Says Stagecoach Chief Executive Martin Griffiths: “Governments of all colours have for too long shied away from tackling the critical issue of growing and unsustainable car use. Current taxation policy is out of step with the strategy to deliver net zero. It has effectively made motoring cheaper, while the road congestion it causes has increased air pollution, accelerated the climate emergency and damaged public transport networks by making services more costly and less reliable.
“With the shift to electric vehicles, the country is also facing a significant black hole in public finances from declining fuel tax revenues. A new pay-per-mile regime for private cars, with measures to protect less well-connected rural areas and combined with other incentives, would help drive a return to public transport and more sustainable communities.”
Other policy interventions Stagecoach has called for include a marketing campaign fronted by government ministers similar to that conducted for the rail industry; an initiative to incentivise the purchase of monthly and annual travel cards through a salary sacrifice scheme; a national jobseeker/Universal Credit bus travel discount scheme; fast-track funding for lower bus fares schemes (not currently expected until April 2022); a bus fare reduction scheme in December to support high streets over Christmas; and a financial incentive for motorists to scrap diesel vehicles in favour of public transport, and not simply new cars.
Such measures would “kick-start the country’s town and city centres, boost health and well-being, and help deliver stretching government targets to reach net zero by 2050,” according to Stagecoach.
“Bus networks are the arteries behind the social and economic heartbeat of Britain’s towns and cities,” adds Mr Griffiths. “They are also central to delivering on the country’s net zero ambitions and creating healthier, more connected communities.
“Government messaging during 18 months of the pandemic has negatively impacted public perceptions of public transport and is holding back Britain’s buses. We need urgent government action and innovative policies to support the efforts of operators to re-boot bus use and unlock their power to kick-start the country’s recovery from the pandemic.”
The proposals come as local authorities face a 31 October deadline to publish plans to improve bus services under the government’s National Bus Strategy for England.
Stagecoach is also backing a joint appeal by the industry asking the government to use the spending review to set out a clear timeline for the planning and introduction of 4,000 zero-emission buses by the end of the current Parliament.