Smarter Cambridge Transport

How much does it cost to run a bus?

On average, the charge for providing a one-way bus trip in a non-metropolitan region of England is £1.73. Of that, 39p comes from government to cover use of concessionary travel passes; 14p is a fuel duty rebate from central government; and 20p comes from local authorities to support unprofitable services. That leaves the passenger paying £1 for the fare. Of course, few people pay an ‘average’ fare (though that is currently the fare on some services from Cambridge station).

Of the £1.73 a bus operator receives, £1.48 covers operating costs and 25p covers corporation tax and profit, some of which is reinvested (e.g. in new vehicles) and some paid out in dividends.

The most interesting figure here is the 20p subsidy per passenger-journey that local authorities pay. Compare it with the £1 per vehicle subsidy to park at a Park & Ride site. Which provides better value for taxpayers’ money? Which is more equitable?

The new Park & Ride at Hauxton, approved for detailed planning last week, is intended for use only until the Cambridgeshire Autonomous Metro opens, which could be six years after the P&R opens in 2023. The construction cost of £47million could equate to an annual cost of £8million, or £10 per parking space per day.

That would buy a lot of a bus subsidy, potentially supporting as many as 40 million extra passenger-journeys a year, or 55,000 return trips per day. This is the kind of step change in public transport provision needed for the Biomedical Campus. By the end of this year, over 47,000 people will be accessing that site every weekday. What would make the bigger difference: another 2,500 people using Park & Ride or 55,000 more people using buses in the region?

Franchising would enable local authorities to commission those new bus services. But there are simpler ways to do it right now, using partnership agreements to set routes and service levels. The Greater Cambridge Partnership is still pursuing big infrastructure solutions when what is most needed, at least in the short term, is investment in bus services, travel hubs, and connecting walking and cycling routes.

This article was first published in the Cambridge Independent on 3 July 2019.

Edward Leigh

Edward Leigh is the leader of Smarter Cambridge Transport, chair and independent co-opted member of the Cambridgeshire Police and Crime Panel, chair of the South Petersfield Residents Association, business owner, consultant, and occasional blogger about making the world and Cambridge a better place to live.

1 comment

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  • A “dayrider” ticket to travel to and from Cambridge is £4.50

    A return journey from Cambourne to the city centre is 20 miles. At £1.40 for a litre of petrol, a car capable of only 35mpg would cost £3.64. Many people live closer and so it would even cheaper to drive. It’s only the high cost of parking, I’m sure, that puts people off driving. In the evening, the poor bus services practically force people to drive or take a taxi, at least one way.

    The bus routes form a star, centered on city. If you’re traversing the city, the time taken to get into the city centre and back out, make bus journeys very unattractive to commuters. If the city wishes to get commuters out of their cars, I think they need to turn some P&Rs into transport hubs, so it’s possible to get to the science and business parks, and hospitals without going into the city centre.