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Bus passenger journeys decline in two-thirds of areas

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More than two-thirds (68%) of areas in England have seen a reduction in the number of bus passenger journeys over the most recent seven years for which data is available.

LGC analysis of Department for Transport statistics published last month showed that regionally the West Midlands (-17%) and the north-east (-15.2%) have seen the biggest decline in the number of bus passenger journeys between 2009-10, the first year for which comparable statistics are available, and 2016-17. Across England there has been a -4% decline.

Just three regions – south west (9.1%), south east (7.3%), and London (0.1%) – have seen increases.

Regional change in bus passenger journeys between 2009-10 and 2016-17

Regions in order of biggest decline of bus passenger journeys between 2009-10 and 2016-17
Region% change in bus passenger journeys
West Midlands -17.0%
North east -15.2%
North west -12.0%
Yorkshire & the Humber -11.7%
East Midlands -10.2%
East of England -0.2%
London 0.1%
South east 7.3%
South west 9.1%

There are five areas with municipal bus companies in England. Of these, Reading BC saw a 29.5% rise in bus passenger journeys, while Nottingham City Council has seen a 1.3% increase. However, Halton BC (-3.3%), Blackpool BC (-21.5%), and Warrington BC (-38.8%) all saw passenger journey numbers decline.

The reduction in Warrington was also the steepest of every integrated transport area – the top-tier council area or grouping of top-tier councils that oversees transport.

A spokesperson for Warrington said the reduction had been “exacerbated by a reduction in the number of operators and decreasing fleet sizes among our main operators. This has resulted in the cancellation of some routes and reductions in frequency of others.”

However, the spokesperson said there had been an increase of 250,000 bus passengers in the last year compared to the previous one which was attributed to “a range of improvements” and investment in public transport infrastructure.

Areas with the biggest decline in bus passenger journeys 2009-10 to 2016-17

Areas with biggest decline in bus passenger journeys 2009-10 to 2016-17
Integrated transport area% change in bus passenger journeys
Warrington -38.8%
Stoke-on-Trent -34.0%
Redcar & Cleveland -31.7%
Worcestershire -29.9%
Windsor & Maidenhead -27.9%
Telford and Wrekin -26.7%
Somerset -26.5%
Lancashire -25.8%
Shropshire -25.1%
Darlington -23.1%

A Redcar & Cleveland BC spokesman said there was “no single reason” for passenger journeys declining by almost a third (31.7%) in their area but added the council is “going to undertake market research to understand fully why local people are using the bus less and how to make buses more relevant to their travel needs.” He said the council is also working with “local bus operators and other local authorities to reverse this trend” and added: “We are also exploring the case for franchising throughout the entire Tees Valley as an alternative method of delivering local bus services.”

Alan Amos (Con), cabinet member for highways at Worcestershire CC, attributed the 29.9% decline in passenger journeys to “a drop in the number of bus services and journeys covered due to the withdrawal of commercial services and a decrease in bus subsidy from the county council”. He said he was conducting a “thorough review” of all bus services to find out which routes residents want “and how much they are prepared to subsidise them”.

West Berkshire Council saw the biggest percentage increase in passenger journeys, rising 42.7%. A council spokeswoman attributed “much of the increase” to “enhanced commercial services in the ‘Greater Reading’ section of West Berkshire”, served by Reading Buses.

A spokesperson for Reading BC - where there was a 29.5% increase - said the council’s ownership of Reading Buses “allows the service to be more flexible and responsive to the needs of the local community”.

Areas with the biggest increase in bus passenger journeys 2009-10 and 2016-17

Areas with biggest increase in bus passenger journeys 2009-10 to 2016-17
Integrated transport area% change in bus passenger journeys
West Berkshire 42.7%
Bristol, City of 41.9%
South Gloucestershire 37.7%
Poole 34.3%
Central Bedfordshire 30.7%
Bath and North East Somerset 30.4%
Reading 29.5%
Hertfordshire 23.4%
Brighton and Hove 21.5%
North Somerset 21.1%

The spokesperson also said there had been a lot of investment in the fleet of buses and public transport infrastructure in general. They said the town had “the highest proportion of bus lanes per mile in the country outside of London”, and “also has the third highest number of bus journeys per head of population in the country outside of London”.

Mhairi Threlfall (Lab), Bristol City Council’s cabinet member for transport, attributed her area’s 41.9% increase in passenger journeys to investment in public transport and “policy initiatives such as residents parking and car clubs”.

Other areas attributed ongoing investment in public transport to increases in passenger journeys.

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Readers' comments (1)

  • congratulations to Reading, years of investment and an expanding compenhensive service has been at the corner stone of a growing economy. The area has also seen a new railway station opened at Green Park opening up rail communty into this employment zone. With cross rail opening nex year linking the brand new town centre station to London's west end, the city through to Essex, its becoming a regional centre with the best connected sustainable transport system outside London

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