After the disappointment of last week’s National Bus Strategy, transport campaigners will be delighted to see the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) launch a transformative new vision for buses.
‘Every village, every hour’ presents a complete solution to the rural bus crisis and a sure means of reversing the cuts to 3,000+ bus routes made over the last decade. It’s a fully-costed model of a Swiss-style transport network for England; providing guaranteed hourly services to every village from 6am to midnight, 7 days a week.
A Swiss-style model would be transformative for bus services, also ‘levelling up’ the economy, environment, health and community all over the country. And all of this could be achieved with just £2.7 billion diverted from the annual roads budget.
A universal basic right to transport
Underpinning CPRE’s strategy is the need for transport to be treated as a universal human right, with guaranteed minimum service levels enshrined in law. This should be backed up by permanent, ring-fenced funding that puts transport on an equal footing with health and education.
Thirty years of deregulation combined with austerity has meant a huge decline in the number of ‘socially necessary’ bus routes, with bus companies competing and duplicating services on the profitable routes instead. CPRE recommends further legislation for franchising powers to ensure comprehensive coverage; as well as lifting the ban on new municipal companies, which would allow councils to run services and reinvest profits in the network.
Public transport in the era of climate change
Transport is the UK’s biggest emitting sector, and it’s estimated that decarbonisation will require traffic levels to drop by 20-60% in the next ten years. This will only be possible through radical strategies for public transport.
Examples in Europe show the overwhelming success of cheap and free transport schemes. For example, free transport in Dunkirk has led to a doubling of bus journeys, with half of new users switching from cars. Research shows that real behaviour change only occurs over time, when there is an attractive public transport offer that passengers can trust will be there to support them.
The CPRE report provides full costings of these future visions for transport, which are completely achievable right now:
A bus strategy we can believe in
CPRE’s report brings home the weakness of the government’s plan for rural buses, which received little mention in the National Bus Strategy last week. The only concrete suggestion was the piloting of more on-demand, Uber-style services; which will do little to increase ridership. By contrast, the Swiss model of comprehensive bus coverage boasts over six times the number of passenger journeys than the English average outside London.
The National Bus Strategy has taken little account of the problem of transport poverty; promising only to expand the definition of socially necessary services, without any clear commitment to strengthen the statutory requirement. This speed of change is vastly insufficient, and it’s long past time that bus services were taken seriously as an essential human right (as recommended by the UN in 2019.)
CPRE and Transport for Quality of Life should be applauded for their bold and transformative vision, which has been published at exactly at the time it’s most needed.