Buses are in the public eye as the Bus Services Bill passes through parliament.
The focus on the bus sector and most importantly its passengers is certainly welcome; all too often bus travel doesn’t receive the attention and recognition such a vital service deserves.
Bus travel is the most commonly used form of public transport. It underpins local economies, connecting people with jobs. It provides the lifeblood for our high streets: each year, bus users make 1.4 billion shopping trips on which they spend an estimated £27bn.
But there are challenges that we must overcome together. Public expenditure pressure has led to cuts to subsidised services, while rising congestion is causing bus patronage to fall, contributing to the challenges facing our high streets.
So the common goal of the bus industry and local government must be to attract more people to use the bus.
This means tackling congestion, improving journey times and investing in bus infrastructure and networks. It also requires innovating to enhance the passenger experience, through measures such as wifi, smartphone ticketing and providing real-time information to passengers.
But we also need to work together to deliver enhanced services, improved networks and sustainable investment.
At Arriva, we were thrilled to recently sign an agreement with Merseytravel and Stagecoach to improve bus services in the Liverpool City Region, making the bus network even more attractive, affordable and accessible, and supporting the regional economy.
This ‘Bus Alliance’ brings the operators and partners together under a framework to deliver more than £25m worth of investment in bus services in year one of the five-year partnership.
The agreement includes a package of measures to improve the customer experience for existing passengers and helping to attract new ones. It commits operators to provide modern fleets and unlocks additional Office for Low Emissions Vehicles funding towards 72 new, greener buses. The first tranche will be introduced early 2017.
The Alliance also includes a range of customer-focused improvements, such as smart ticketing, Wi-Fi and USB charging, and simplifies multimodal journeys for passengers, making changing between bus and rail easier.
Working closely with local businesses, schools and colleges, the integrated transport network will encourage more people to travel by bus. Clearly defined targets on punctuality and passenger satisfaction ensure accountability and underpin the focus on increasing passenger numbers.
The Bus Alliance shows what can be achieved by working together. With the Bus Services Bill set to include additional partnership powers, now is the time to explore how working together we can attract even more people out of their cars, encourage modal shift and deliver greater benefits for passengers.
Let’s tackle the barriers to bus usage, boost passenger numbers and help unlock the high street.
Kevin O’Connor, managing director, Arriva UK Bus