Five times more funding needed to ‘bus back better’ in rural England, CPRE research reveals
- The government will need to invest five times the amount it pledged last week for buses to provide everyone with ‘cheap, reliable and fast’ bus journeys
The government’s National Bus Strategy is woefully unambitious and will continue to deliver “wholly inadequate” bus services, especially in rural areas, according to a report from CPRE, the countryside charity.
The report, Every Village, Every Hour, outlines how the government could reach its own ambition of delivering radically improved bus services across the country by investing £2.7 billion a year. This is five times more than the Prime Minister and Transport Secretary pledged last week when launching new funding of £3bn over five years in the National Bus Strategy.
The announcement is a one-off splurge when what we need is continuous, year-on-year funding to connect every community with “cheap, reliable and fast” bus journeys.
CPRE’s modelling shows that, with the right investment, the government can deliver a world-leading bus network capable of matching Swiss standards where every village of 200-300 people is guaranteed at least an hourly bus service from 6am to midnight, seven days a week.
One way of achieving this would be to redirect just a portion of the funding for the government’s legally embattled and widely criticised £27 billion roadbuilding schemes to instead properly fund buses. This could provide more than enough money to pay for CPRE’s vision, with enough left over to make fares free across these services.
Crispin Truman, chief executive of the countryside charity, said: “Rural communities up and down the country know from painful first-hand experience the impacts of underfunding our bus services. Too many have been languishing in so-called transport deserts where those who do not have access to a car are left high and dry with no practical way to get to work, school or doctors. Public transport for rural communities has been wholly inadequate for long enough.
“Our new research shows that the Prime Minister’s recently announced investment in buses, while seemingly impressive, is a fraction of what’s actually needed to realise the vision espoused by ministers.
“To avoid another situation where rhetoric doesn’t meet delivery, we’re calling on the government to significantly raise the level of investment in our ailing bus services and recognise a universal basic right to public transport. Our research shows this investment will pay dividends – that’s why bigger bucks for buses is an absolute no-brainer.”
This report builds upon previous research from CPRE, which found that more than a million people in the South West and North East live in ‘transport deserts’ or areas where the only practical form of transport is the private car.
While the Transport Minister rightly stated that “everyone deserves to have access to cheap, reliable and quick bus journeys”, our analysis shows the amount invested by the government will fall woefully short of what is needed to reach every part of the country with decent public transport.
It is often overlooked that bus services provide numerous public goods and are essential for the many people across England who do not have access to a car. Improved bus services in rural areas have the potential to change lives – we know that this kind of investment will disproportionately benefit low-income families, the elderly and the young.
By providing an alternative to private car travel, local bus services can reduce traffic and air pollution while boosting high street spending, employment, social mobility and equality.
CPRE is calling on the government to recognise a universal basic right to public transport to provide Swiss-style service standards to villages and towns that must be legally enforced.