The provision of bus services in the UK is complex, though there three types of action you could consider:
- filling a gap in the public transport services, such as through a community run demand responsive transport service
- working in partnerships to help promote and improve local bus services, such as sprucing up the local bus stop and making it easier to walk to as well as promoting local bus services and publicising timetables
- influencing land use plans and local transport plans to get better bus services in your area, such as through greater bus priority and ensuring developers build in high levels of bus use in their developments.
There is more information about some of these in other sections, such as creating travel information and linking transport with planning.
Types of road based public transport
There is a wide range of types of public transport that operate on roads:
- coach - these operate on longer distances and have limited stops
- bus - these are conventional timetabled services that operate in cities as well as rural areas
- Park & Ride - a type of bus service that shuttles between car parks on the edge of towns to town centre
- Demand Responsive Transport (DRT) - this phrase covers a range of different services from those that are essentially buses that only operate if pre-booked to taxi services
- taxi - commercially run services that are booked for individual journeys
- community car - run by volunteers, this provides for essential journeys for those who would otherwise be unable to travel.
DRT can operate:
- on a fixed route like a normal bus service, except that it only operates if someone has called in advance
- on a fixed route but with portions where the bus can leave the route to pick people up or drop them off
- without any fixed route and able to take people on any journey within a certain area.
Some forms of DRT may be part of the normal bus services, others, such as ‘ring and ride’ may offer special services for those with limited mobility.
Because of the complexity of funding arrangements, as well as the interplay of competition law and deregulated bus services, there are a number of different approaches to improving buses:
- no co-operation - this can lead to ‘overbussing’ on some routes, few on others and both operators and the public can lose out as a result
- informal partnerships - close working between an operator and local authorities, this can also involve local community groups, learning from the approach used successfully by Community Rail Partnerships
- voluntary partnership agreement - where a local authority improves conditions for bus services and operators in return offer higher quality services, it is necessary to make one of these agreements, otherwise competition laws could be breached
- quality partnership - where a local authority offers improved facilities for buses, such as a new bus station or bus priority gate, and only bus operates that undertake to meet certain quality standards can use those facilities, such as new buses, more frequent and reliable services
- Better Bus Areas - primarily for areas with denser population and congestion, these new arrangements involve bids to Government for extra money to ensure more bus use and need to demonstrate they will grow the economy and reduce carbon emissions
- franchising, also known outside London as quality contracts - where a local authority specifies the bus services and invites tenders for services, meaning other companies cannot offer bus services in the area.
Some of these different options can happen at the same time - there may be a quality partnership in a Better Bus Area, for example. Quality contracts are controversial amongst bus operators and, as of 2013, none have been set up. A number of local authorities are developing plans for them and this can be a good bargaining chip to use in order to negotiate quality partnerships with operators.
Increasing the use of buses - Department for Transport
Bus partnerships - advice from the bus industry
Funding and ownership
Bus services may be:
- commercial - 77% of services in England outside London were not subsidised by local authorities in 2011 and this means that private operators have the ability to change services with little notice
- subsidised (tendered through bids by operators) - local authorities have the powers to pay towards socially necessary bus services that are not sufficiently profit making to be run without subsidy and this can include running services at less busy hours on commercial routes, such as in the evening
Most bus services receive a subsidy known as Bus Service Operators’ Grant to cover part of the cost of fuel duty, though is expected to be fully phased out by the end of the decade.
Bus services may be:
- commercially run - by private companies, whether one of the big transport operators or smaller local firms, which operate primarily in rural areas
- community run - known as community transport, these are run by charities or ‘not for profit’ companies and are often subsidised by local authority funding and/or volunteers who provide their time for free or less than commercial rates.
Giving buses priority and making services run more smoothly is important as:
- it makes it easier to keep to a timetable, so services are more reliable and extra time does not need to be added in the timetable waiting at stops to reduce the risk of delays
- it reduces the number of buses needed to operate a service, so reducing its cost and increasing its viability
- bus journey times can become more competitive compared to cars, leading to more passengers
- seeing a bus whizz past can make drivers stuck in traffic jams reconsider their travel choices
Bus journeys can be made quicker by:
- better designed bus stops, so it is easier for buses to pull in and out
- managing parking better, so buses and other larger vehicles do not get stuck on narrow or congested roads
- bus lanes - including increasing hours of operation
- bus gates - giving buses head starts before junctions
- restrictions on general traffic - such as areas that only for vehicles such as buses and cycles can pass through, which is sometimes known as filtered permeability
- better enforcement of the above restrictions.