Tuesday, 11 February 2020

You Wait Ages for an Announcement on Buses. . . .

Government Announcements on Buses are becoming like, er...buses!
Last week, the government announced an additional £220 million spending on buses, including £750,000 for Lancashire County Council to improve bus services in the coming financial year 2020/21. (read again here).

Now, tagged on to the annoucement of the go-ahead for the High-Speed Railway line to London (claimed to cost over £100 Billion), comes the promise of a more modest £5 Billion for buses (and cycling).

According to the Department for Transport (DfT) "bus services will be transformed with simpler fares, thousands of new buses, improved routes and higher frequencies"

The package of investment will boost bus services by focusing on a range of priorities, set to include:
  • Higher frequency services, including evenings and weekends, to make it easier and less restrictive for people to get around at any time of day
  • More ‘turn up and go’ routes where, thanks to higher frequency, people won’t have to rely on timetables to plan journeys
  • New priority schemes will make routes more efficient, so that buses avoid congested routes and can speed passengers through traffic
  • More affordable, simpler fares
  • At least 4,000 new Zero Emission Buses to make greener travel the convenient option, driving forward the UK’s progress on its net zero ambitions

How will the money be spent?

The spending mechanism is not clear.  At present, routes, times and fares are determined either by the commercial bus companies or, in the case of supported services, by the local councils that issue contracts to bus operators to run them on their behalf. The government's role is restricted to setting the legal framework under which the system operates and to providing funding to local authoities. Looking at the proposals one by one:

  • Introducing "higher frequency services", including "turn up and go" routes or extra evening and weekend services would presumably be tackled by increasing funding to local authorities to allow them to make agreements with bus companies to improve services.                                                                                                                   
    Evening services could be improved.
  • Bus priority schemes, to allow buses to bypass congestion are also a local authority responsibility. To get value for money from this part of the funding it will be crucial that priority measures are introduced where they will most benefit bus passengers - and NOT, as in Lancashire where they are put in in places where they won't annoy motorists (see Greyhound Bridge and Broughton village for examples).                        
    More bus priority - but please not just where it doesn't upset the motorists
  • Reducing bus fares by providing subsidy to bus operators is illegal at present and would appear to require a change in the law, unless the government intends to "encourage" operators to cut them in return for bus priorities and help to buy new buses.                                                                                                                      
  • New electric buses cost a lot more than diesel-powered ones, which is one reason you don't see many of them about.  Last week's announcement included £50 million to convert an entire town's bus fleet to electric vehicles, but didn't specify how many buses would be included.  It's not always easy to say how much a new bus would cost. The price would vary not only by the size or model chosen but also by the size of the order and, to an extent, who's buying as no doubt a degree of "negotiation" is involved. There's also the matter of the charging infrastructure (for electrics) or fuel storage (for hydrogen) which would be extra.  But 4,000 buses could easily account for £1 billion of the £5 billion fund.
  • Image result for electric bus harrogate images
    An electric bus in Harrogate

How far will the money go?

The promised 4,000 new, zero-emission buses could account for £1 Billion

Image result for cycle infrastructure images uk
High-qulaity cycling in Manchester
Then there are the 400 kilometres of "high-quality" cycle lanes. It's even harder to estimate how much they would cost but a report produced for the DfT in 2017 suggests that costs could be between £1.15M and £1.45M per kilometre in urban areas, which would easily account for £0.6 Billion. There are other cycling measures in the plan, so let's call that one billion for cycling.

    What's left for Lancaster's Buses?

    The remaining £3 Billion would be spent over five years, or £600 Million per year for improved timetables, lower fares and bus priority works on the highway. There has been  no detail so far as to how the money will be allocated to councils (or even that it will be) but based on the amount that Lancashire received from last week's funding announcement the county could be in for a windfall of up to £15 million a year for five years ( a "billion" is a VERY big number!)  The County Council currently allocates about 12% of its bus support budget to our District so on that basis (although there is nothing to suggest that the money will be allocated on that - or any other - basis) Lancaster could be looking at almost £2 Million per year, which would go a long way to improving our bus service.

    But there are no guarantees and those figures are our own supposition rather than hard facts. And understandably, after years of decline in both funding and services, we aren't holding our breath!

    Full details of how the money will be spent will be included in the new National Bus Strategy which will be published later this year as part of the government's Comprehensive Spending Review and we look forward to reading it!

    Thursday, 6 February 2020

    Government Announcement on Funding Promises £750,000 for Lancashire

    Service 51 in Silverdale
    In a major announcement today, the Department for Transport has published its plans for improved funding for bus services in England. (Read about it here)

    A total of £220M is to be made available to bring about a number of measures intended to improve buses and services in the coming financial year beginning in April 2020.

    There are specific schemes for Cornwall and the West Midlands included in the total as well as a fund of £50M intended to facilitate the conversion of a demonstration town's entire bus network to electric vehicle operation.

    Also included is a National Bus Strategy for England, whereby for the first time ever the government will set out its strategic goals for the industry. This will be linked to a long-term funding settlement and review of existing bus funding that will hopefully allow a move away from short-term funding and bring some much needed stability.

    Amongst a range of other measures is a proposal to incentivise multi-operator ticketing (the ability to use a ticket bought from one bus company on another company's services) which would be very useful for passengers in the Lune Valley as well as Silverdale and the north Fylde.

    A sum of £20M is set aside for yet more so called innovative "on demand" type services. These are the current "in-thing" in the bus world at the moment with a number of schemes operating in places such as Oxford and Merseyside although none of them can claim to be a success.

    Local Bus Funding

    Of most interest to Lancaster bus passengers is the announcement that Lancashire County Council will receive £751,576 in 2020/21 to improve existing conventional bus services, bring back services previously lost or start completely new routes.  Although a sizeable sum, it isn't enough to bring back all those services lost in 2016 when the county council reduced its spending on bus service support by around £4M, but it will allow some improvements and Lancaster Bus Users' Group will be making sure that the Lancaster District gets at least its fare share.

    The County Council has to submit proposals on how the money will be spent by 13 March if it wants to receive it by 1st April or by 26 June if it's happy to wait until later in the year although later payments will be subject to the money still being available!

    There is an obligation on the council to consult with local members of parliament and also to show that a degree of "community involvement" has taken place - something the BUG can certainly help with!

    We have already started the ball rolling with local county councillors and will keep readers up to date via this blog as things progress.