The newly drafted Bus Bill is currently going through Parliament and promises new local franchising and decision making powers.
Outside London, bus companies compete on the street for passengers but if the Bill is passed they will instead compete for franchises awarded by local authorities with set service levels for a specific area. The hope is this will help combat the current skew towards well used, more profitable routes.
The bill could make a tangible difference to millions of people. Some 4.5 billion bus journeys were made in England last year, 34% of which by people in later life and people with disabilities.
These changes could also herald a new era in the availability of information to passengers. Open data and ticketing provisions in the bill will make it easier to provide passengers with new ways to access timetables, routes and vehicle locations.
Tech start-ups like Uber and Deliveroo have disrupted transport, yet innovation has not been widespread in public transport despite the opportunities. For example, while 91% of buses in England are fitted with smart ticket technology, currently complex competition and data arrangements mean that only London can fully make use of this technology.
In London, the ease of use of the Oyster smart ticket system, the real-time arrivals technology accessed at bus stops or on smart phones, and the ability to set fare caps, freezes and structures are all reasons cited for London having bucked the national downward trend in bus use in the last two decades. Bringing these regulatory changes could have double the impact outside the capital, with twice as many older and disability concessionary fare journeys made outside London.
Most of us take for granted our ability to get out and about. However, as people age, mobility can also change. Age related impairments and vulnerabilities, and even ageist views about older drivers, can limit car use. In the UK drivers must reapply for their driving licenses at 70, despite a lack of evidence to suggest people suddenly become unsafe at this or any age.
For people in later life who have to forego their cars, especially in rural areas, there is an even greater risk of social isolation and loneliness than for previous generations whose lives were, in general, lived closer to home. This is why we have been talking to places like Leeds and Manchester about the potential for fresh approaches to community and public transport.
Buses are of course just one part of the jigsaw. It is also important to have all the necessary services, social networks and activities available in the local neighbourhood.
But it’s a start. That is why we are watching this bill carefully and look forward to being part of what might happen as a result.
Natalie Turner, senior programme manager for localities, Centre for Ageing Better