While he welcomed the Natonal Bus Strategy and the vision that created it, CPT President Ralph Roberts argues ‘a lack of ambition’ is being displayed in the funding levels

Last month I, alongside other Confederation of Passenger Transport (CPT) board members, met senior officials of the Department for Transport to discuss a range of matters affecting the industry. One of the topics was the National Bus Strategy (NBS) and the funding of Bus Service Improvement Plans (BSIPs) to fulfil this strategy.

My view is that, while I welcomed NBS and the vision that created it, there is a lack of ambition being displayed in the funding levels. I accept that it is impossible to reverse decades of underinvestment in one fell swoop – perhaps foolish to try – but this toe in the water is only a reasonable start at best.

The Bus Partnership Fund in Scotland allocates £500m to provide bus priority schemes to make bus more attractive. When this was launched, the Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Michael Matheson, challenged the industry to show him what could be achieved and that was the best way to release more funding. Perhaps that is what is in mind for England?

Once pro rata is applied to the £500m in Scotland, England should have seen a fund of circa £5bn for the BSIP programme. Perhaps the idea is that it will be £1bn per annum for five years? This would make sense, but it would also make sense to tell people rather than leave us guessing.

Bus companies up and down the country could get on with five-year plans, and local authorities could work their strategies around this. Bus users would know what is coming downstream and keep the faith, rather than the current situation where car is king and hogs all of the policy (and road space). After all, this is what our smaller sibling – the rail industry – manages to do.

And what of Wales? The Welsh government wishes to go in a different direction altogether, but still hasn’t figured out the funding. Funding, as ever, is the key to everything. Odd, then, that the treasury would cost itself £2.4bn by cutting fuel duty by 5p per litre. If that money was up for reallocation, imagine what it could have achieved over five years if given to the coach and bus sector. True transformation, and a just levelling up for bus users, whose voices have been somewhat ignored for long enough.

Let’s keep heart and celebrate the awards. If you weren’t awarded funding, or it fell short in this round, let’s keep the NBS and the BSIPs alive. Keep refining and improving them and keep submitting them.

And, last but not least, let’s keep pointing out the incredibly good value it is to invest in bus infrastructure, bus services and bus users. This is one area where it costs more when you don’t spend than it does when you do.