In a letter to District Council Leaders, the County Council's Executive Director of Growth, Environment and Transport, Stephen Young, has set out the basis of the Plan.
Base Line Data
The first part of the plan will contain information on the present-day bus service in Lancashire.
- Explain the current local situation.
- Provide information about passenger numbers, average fares, bus speeds, road congestion and other factors affecting public transport operations.
- Detail information about local operators and how services are designed with local people in mind.
- State how much funding does the LTA currently use to support services and what are the main barriers to bus usage and growth in the area?
This starting point data will be used to measure the success of the future Enhanced Partnership of bus operators and the county council in delivering improvements.
Implementing the National Bus Strategy
The Plan will then show how the key goals of the National Bus Strategy will be implemented in Lancashire. These include
- More frequent bus services with better provision in evenings and weekends. They should be faster and more reliable, cheaper and easier to understand. There should be better integration with other modes and innovation.
- There must be significant increases in bus priority, which means protected bus lanes and bus gates.
- Bus stations should be protected from closure and redevelopment, be improved and well maintained and there should be staff available for customer care and information.
- The local bus network should be presented as a single network with clear passenger information. There should be a strong network identity, bus stops should show accurate information, with real time where relevant, and timetable changes minimised.
- Buses should also be accessible for all, so stopping facilities need to be upgraded and be Equalities Act compliant. There will be options to bid for the Zero Emission Bus Regional Areas Scheme with partners, to deliver more modern buses and decarbonisation.
It is intended that BSIP's will give passengers more of a voice so there is a requirement for a Passenger Charter, for the Enhanced Partnership, giving users rights to certain standards and mechanism for redress at a local level .
It is intended that BSIP's will require regular updates, as a living document, at least every 12 months.
The Bus Users' Group has also heard from Andrew Varley, the County Council's Public Transport Manager, that discussions between bus operators and the council are focussing on the following key themes:
- Multi-operator ticketing. Making it possible for passengers to buy one ticket that will be valid on all buses for the journeys they wish to make, irrespective of operator, has been a long-time ambition of the county council and the National Bus Strategy will make this much easier to achieve.
- A standard offer for Under 19s. Most bus operators in the county offer discounted travel to young people and children, but terms and conditions vary. Under the BSIP it is hoped that a standard product can be offered to these passengers.
- Bus Priority Schemes and removal of "pinch points" , where buses suffer delay as part of the development of a key interurban route network throughout the county.
- Evening and weekend services to be strengthened where appropriate.
- Information and publicity improvements for bus services including both traditional paper timetables and electronic and real-time information services.
- Seeing how Community Transport fits into the BSIP and whether demand-responsive transport services can fulfill a need.
Not all plain sailing?
There may be other problems ahead. Andrew Varley points out that implementation of the Plan will be subject to the amount of funding the Enhanced Partnership will receive from the government and that so far there has been no announcement on this or even on how it will be calculated.
Then, with bus patronage in the county still only slowly recovering from the drastic falls due to Covid-19 in the Spring of 2020 and the government's emergency Bus Service Recovery Grant due to end next April, there is a possibility that the replacement funding for the BSIP might have to be used, at least in part, to maintain the existing network rather than improve it.
Lastly, of course, is the shortage of bus drivers, which is already causing cancellations on a daily basis in Lancaster as well as throughout the country and if not solved could make it very difficult to increase frequencies or introduce new routes.
The BSIP is due to be published in October and will then form the basis of the work of Enhanced Partnership of bus operators and the county council which should see improvements delivered sometime after April 2022.
The County Council would also like to learn your views as to how services could be improved. If you would like to help please fill in this short online survey