Where in England do buses work really well? According to the Department for Transport, the top four local authorities, ranked by annual passenger-journeys per head of population, are:
1. Greater London (264.3)
2. Brighton & Hove (159.5)
3. Nottingham (149.2)
4. Reading (126.2)
22. Oxfordshire (62.3)
53. Cambridgeshire (32.4 – down from 37.5 in 2009/10)
Of course it’s not fair to compare a large rural county with a city, but we can nevertheless learn from the leading cities.
London has a franchised network of bus services, overseen by Transport for London (TfL). TfL doesn’t own all the buses or employ the drivers: it tenders contracts to over ten different companies to operate London’s services.
Nottingham and Reading councils still own a local bus operator, but they have to compete with private operators in a free market. They’ve succeeded by continuously innovating to maintain a high quality passenger experience (a ‘wow’ factor) and by controlling costs.
Brighton & Hove’s outstanding success stems from having a strong, highly-focused team in the council, and a healthy working relationship with the main bus operators. It uses the Quality Bus Partnership framework, available to all local authorities, to deliver a comprehensive bus network, with smart, cross-operator ticketing.
The Bus Services Bill should be enacted later this year. It will allow the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough combined authority, led by a new mayor, to adopt London-style franchising of bus services. This is a golden opportunity for innovation: to redesign the bus network to include easier and quicker interchanging, and more direct, express services for commuters; multi-operator smart ticketing; and high standards for bus emissions and accessibility.
The City Deal’s role should be to deliver infrastructure to support this: travel hubs, including new bus stations, and high quality bus stops; smart traffic lights that synchronise with buses; and Inbound Flow Control (covered in our column of 15 February) at the edge of cities and towns to give buses priority in the morning. The County Council needs to deliver locally-appropriate parking controls and more consistent enforcement to reduce city congestion.
This article was first published in the Cambridge Independent on 1 March 2017.