Public Transport Needs Secure Finance. March 2021
Updated: Aug 30, 2021
In a recent very lucid article Laura Shoaf, MD for Transport for West Midlands emphasised the fact that the future of the bus—and a fairer, more socially equitable economic recovery to which it can contribute—is deeply uncertain.
It is evident that across the country bus patronage was in decline before the pandemic. Ms Shoal points the finger at a number of factors. She states empathically that a significant part of the problem has been the way bus services were funded prior to the pandemic—by a complex patchwork of declining, poorly targeted funding streams, which were insufficient to stem patronage decline, to prevent networks from shrinking and to stop fares from rising.... But now, more than ever, we need to put bus funding on a secure, long term footing that recognises the role it currently plays for those who rely on it most and how it can contribute to a more prosperous and greener future.
She goes on to explain that the forthcoming government bus strategy provides a once in a generation opportunity to do so and urges the government to take three vital steps.
First, it should assess how much funding is needed to deliver improved bus services and devolve that funding to transport authorities – those who understand local markets, can innovate quickly and can target that funding to achieve the best results for their people.
Then, local authorities and integrated transport authorities can contractually provide bus networks on an emergency, short-term basis to deliver specified outcomes.
This will act as a stepping stone toward finally using streamlined provisions in the Bus Services Act 2017 so that when we do arrive at a ‘new normal’ for bus use, transport authorities can choose either better regulated partnership arrangements with existing operators, the franchising of networks of services (like in London) or direct provision.
Here in deepest rural Herefordshire at the far west of the West Midlands, we are with you all the way Ms Shoal. We just hope that the government’s recent cooling towards regional devolution is just a minor blip in what is a very important issue.