Make the best use of government funding for buses

Multiple government funds have been announced for buses, the need to use them for the right measures is key for sustainability

What is it they say about buses and two at once?

It has certainly applied recently to bus funding with the government (re)announcing funds for the first all-electric bus town, superbus networks and local authority funding to support services; followed the week after by £5bn for buses and cycling, including 4,000 new zero-emission (ZE) buses.

It’s certainly an exciting time to be working in the bus industry, but we need to make sure this funding is not squandered and is targeted at measures which will truly make a long-term difference to increasing passenger numbers.

We all know this means tackling congestion. It has driven tens of millions of journeys off the bus and back into cars, which ironically then contributes to worsening congestion as well as poorer air quality and increased carbon emissions.

If we want to see other initiatives to encourage more people to take the bus reach their full potential, we have to start with making bus journeys quicker and more reliable.

As we said in Moving Forward Together last year, we believe that investment in the region of £1bn on bus priority measures across England, which this latest announcement is more than capable of funding, will deliver meaningful improvements in our major towns and cities.

As we all seek to reduce our carbon footprints, the confirmation that part of this funding will be used to help buy 4,000 new ZE buses is very welcome.

While the detail is still to come, this announcement very much supports what CPT called for last year to help the industry transition towards an ultra-low and zero-emission fleet.

We will be pushing hard to ensure that this funding also includes help towards the associated infrastructure costs and developing new technology as well as purchasing new vehicles.

We also know that the government wants to see more buses on streets outside London. Good idea – particularly in the evenings and at weekends.

This will require some government support to help get services off the ground and I know from my conversations with operators that they are ready to discuss how we can make this a reality.

Beyond the pump priming needed to get services up and running, we’re going to need to find solutions which can last for the longer term. Sustainable passenger numbers delivered via timely and reliable journeys must be our aim.

The commitment of billions of pounds for buses over the next five years is a welcome first step in transforming our industry. We now need to make sure it is spent on the right priorities to avoid this being a missed opportunity to ensure that the future really is better with bus.