£500m bus recovery partnership model in England called for

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The Confederation of Passenger Transport (CPT) has called for a bus recovery partnership approach to developing sustainable post-pandemic networks in England once the COVID-19 Bus Services Support Grant (CBSSG) Restart mechanism comes to an end. Those networks will be built around satisfying post-pandemic travel demands and fostering long-term growth in usage, CPT says

Such collaboration between operators and local transport authorities (LTAs) would be supported by £500m of ringfenced public money in 2021-22. That funding would come from the £5bn already allocated to buses and cycling.

CPT wants to see the sum formally allocated to bus recovery partnerships in the forthcoming Spending Review on 25 November. The £500m would be supported by a government- and industry-backed marketing campaign and at least £1.2bn of investment in bus priority from the already established £5bn pot.

Bus recovery partnership approach would build on existing work

The Confederation says that a bus recovery partnership approach in England would be underpinned by the positive relationships established between operators and LTAs during the pandemic. It would see the two parties to agree on the format for networks that would meet passengers’ needs while delivering sustainable growth in usage through having clear goals and measures of success.

“It is important that LTAs and operators are able to agree the timeframe from moving away from recovery partnerships towards long-term agreements,” says CPT. It adds that a bus recovery partnership model must be flexible enough to consider varying local conditions. Introducing the partnerships at the right moment is also key.

Bus recovery partnership
The bus recovery partnership proposals aired by CPT must be introduced at the right moment if the benefits of the approach are to be maximised, it says

“Too soon and we risk being unable to deliver the networks that passengers need as we exit and, in time, move beyond the pandemic.

“Too late means public funds being spend on supporting schemes that are no longer required, and a delay to delivering the services that passengers now need.”

The aim of a bus recovery partnership would be to ultimately deliver networks that are viable in the long term. Those that are developed by the approach would take account of permanent changes to travel demands brought about by COVID-19. “Business as usual will not be enough to deliver the services that passengers need,” says CPT.

Tests to be met before bus recovery partnerships introduced

Three conditions must be satisfied before the bus recovery partnership model can be implemented, CPT adds:

  • The removal of social distancing, allowing buses to run at full capacity
  • Introduction of a “significant pro-public transport message from government” to encourage people back to buses
  • A significant return in passenger numbers.

The Confederation says that the current support mechanism for bus services should remain in place until the above conditions are in place. CBSSG Restart is currently open-ended, but the Department for Transport may exercise an eight-week notice period of termination.

Central government funding for initiatives to encourage people back to buses would be decided locally, but CPT suggests that they could include:

  • Rapid deployment of bus priority to improve reliability and give people the confidence to use the mode
  • Funding to help start new services
  • Support for existing links that are not viable in the short term, with the aim of making them commercial where possible
  • Targeted fare initiatives to encourage bus travel.
Bus recovery partnership proposals
The £500m funding from central government would be used to facilitate various initiatives that would be designed to attract customers back to buses

Says CPT Chief Executive Graham Vidler: “Buses remain fundamental to millions of people’s daily lives. As we recover from the pandemic we will need to review and reset services to meet the demands of passengers as people go about their lives differently.

“Recovery partnerships will deliver the local flexibility to allow tailored solutions and sustained improvements for passengers, and to ensure that bus networks continue to play a central role in delivering thriving communities and helping people to live healthier lifestyles.”

UTG calls for bus funding to be simplified – and devolved

In response to CPT’s proposals, the Urban Transport Group – which represents city region LTAs – has called on the government to use its long-awaited national bus strategy “to simplify and streamline funding arrangements for an industry that is now reliant on public money.”

Director Jonathan Bray adds that the best way to do that “is to devolve funding for bus to city region LTAs so that public transport services as a whole can be planned and delivered in a coordinated way that best meets the distinctive needs of each area while ensuring best value for money for the taxpayer.” That would provide a pathway to enhanced partnership or franchising arrangements, says Mr Bray.

While CPT has called for a £500m allocation of public money to bus recovery partnerships in 2021-21, it adds that a smaller amount may be necessary in the following financial year. CPT has produced an infographic explaining its proposals in full.