|Government Announcements on Buses are becoming like, er...buses!|
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"
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.
|An electric bus in Harrogate|
How far will the money go?
The promised 4,000 new, zero-emission buses could account for £1 Billion
|High-qulaity cycling in Manchester|
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!