The Campaign for Rural England (CPRE) is running a campaign that everyone should get behind – for a comprehensive bus network for rural England. Imagine if very village had a bus service at least every hour, at least eighteen hours a day (6am to midnight), seven days a week. It would mean many families that currently need two or more cars could manage with one fewer, saving money.
A bus pass for Cambridgeshire costs just under £100/month. That is less than most people spend to keep a car on the road.
So, what’s stopping it happening? Mostly money. Bus services are only profitable when they’re busy. But, if people are to depend on buses, buses need to run at other times too. The CPRE report estimates the cost for England at about £2.7 billion/year – or just over £41 million/year for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.
The report has a number of suggestions for how to raise the money, including road pricing. After years of opposition to this, even the county councillor on the Greater Cambridge Partnership (GCP) Executive Board agreed at the last board meeting that some form of revenue-raising scheme is needed to fund the (comparatively modest) improvements to bus services GCP is currently working on.
So, how could this work, given people don’t vote for more taxes?
The first step is to replace fuel duty. Electric vehicle (EV) owners don’t pay the 80p/litre for fuel duty and VAT. That’s a great incentive to buy an EV, but it’s also not fiscally sustainable long-term. HM Treasury stands to lose about £32.5 billion in tax revenues as we shift to driving EVs. So, we need a mileage-based road user charge as a like-for-like replacement for fuel duty.
We then need to raise additional revenue to cover the cost of a comprehensive bus network. Most businesses reclaim the VAT they pay on fuel. If they could not reclaim the new road user charge, that would raise about £2.4 billion. That’s 90% of the £2.7 billion needed, with no additional bureaucracy.
A bus service for every village, every hour is possible, so let’s make it happen!
This article was first published in the Cambridge Independent on 14 April 2021. The first paragraph contains a correction from the original article.