The Bus Users' Group is a non-political organisation, but with just a week to go before the general election we have taken a look at the parties' manifestos to see what they say about buses.
Naturally, transport features in all of them and most parties recognise the need to reduce pollution caused by cars, although the Conservatives intend to implement a large-scale road building programme, which would have the opposite effect. As far as public transport is concerned all parties say far more about trains than they do about buses despite the fact that 59% of public transport journeys are made by bus compared with only 21% by train (Department for Transport figures)
This lack of appreciation of the importance of bus services is compounded by an apparent lack of understanding about how bus services are provided at present, which makes some of proposals put forward in the manifestos difficult to understand and evaluate, although we have done our best.
So, what do the parties say about buses? (With BUG's comments in italics)
- The Green Party says it will "make public transport cheaper than the cost of travelling by car". There is, of course, more than one way of doing that and it also begs the question of whether, when one takes into account the full cost of car ownership and operation, public transport may already be the cheaper option for many people.
- Specifically, the Greens would give all councils "London-style" control over bus services (whether they want it or not?) and they would "support" (presumably financially) local authorities in bringing back lost bus routes and opening new ones.
- They would provide more bus priority measures to improve punctuality. (Here, the party deserves credit for identifying the major problem facing urban bus services and the best remedy for it). Greens would also provide more money to improve bus stops and waiting facilities, a feature of bus travel usually overlooked.
- Lastly, but very importantly, the party would ensure that the planning system ensures that all new housing developments come with high-quality walking and cycling facilities and much improved public transport.
- The Liberal Democrats promise to invest in public transport to improve its reliability and affordability but the amount of this "investment" is not quantified.
- They also promise to reform the planning system, in their case "to reduce the need to travel" and to promote cycling and walking (but no mention of encouraging bus use).
- Specific proposals are to "give new powers to local authorities and communities to improve transport" including the ability to introduce multi-operator ticketing (Local authorities already have this power) They would also provide £4.5 billion over five years to to restore lost bus routes.
- The Labour Party's manifesto is the only one to recognise that buses carry more passengers than other forms of public transport and that they are relied upon by "many economically disadvantaged groups".
- The party will give local councils the powers and the funding (but not the legal duty) to regulate and "take public ownership of" bus networks, although whether that means public ownership of the actual buses is unclear. (However, the reason stated for doing so would appear to be to improve the wages and conditions of bus workers rather than to improve things for passengers).
- In areas where councils choose to take up such powers the party would provide free bus travel for everyone under the age of 25. Limiting free travel to areas where councils take control of buses could lead to anomalies and inequality of treatment for the target group. Young people living in one village could receive free travel whereas people in a neighbouring community just across a council boundary would not. It is also not clear whether the free travel would apply across the country, as it does for elderly and disabled people, or merely within individual council areas. How bus operators were compensated for giving away travel to the under 25s would be crucial and with over 65s and disabled people already recieving free travel there might be very few passengers actually paying a fare on many routes.
- Labour would "increase and expand" local bus services with "3,000" withdrawn bus routes being re-instated. (This implies that it would be central government that would decide where the new bus services would be provided, rather than at a local level although this is not specifically stated in the manifesto).
- The Conservative party manifesto has the least to say about buses or public transport in general, preferring to focus on a massive road-building campaign and likening the UK at present as a frustrated country trapped "like some super green supercar blocked in the traffic", which might show where their priorities lie.
- They promise to give "city regions" (but not shire county or rural areas) the funding to improve their bus services to make them "as good as London's" and say they will invest in "superbus" networks with low fares and increased frequency. (Quite what makes a bus a "superbus" is not defined)
- The Conservatives also say they will bring back and protect rural bus routes but do not say they will allow or require councils to take ownership of or regulate local bus services.
- The party would invest in electric buses and create the first "all-electric bus" town in the UK.
- Lastly, the Conservatives are the only party to specifically promise to keep the Older Persons' Bus Pass. (The BUG would have been very surprised if any political party had promised to abolish it!)
- The Bus Users' Group has difficulty in taking the Brexit Party seriously. But as the party has specifically said that it is not publishing a manifesto for this election we'll just leave it there, except to say that those Group members who visit the rest of Europe regularly usually compare their public transport systems very favourably against our own.