Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Seventeenth Report


The Transport, Local Government and the Regions has agreed to the following Report:



  1. The bus is the most widely used form of public transport. During 1999/2000 4.3 billion bus journeys were made in Great Britain, double the number of journeys made on national rail services and London Underground combined. A bus can carry up to 80 people, takes up little more road space than two cars, and emits less pollution per passenger mile. Increasing bus use during peak periods is therefore an essential part of the Government's strategy to reduce congestion and pollution.
  2. Buses are an essential transport service for households without access to a car and those left at home when their car is being used elsewhere. Lower income groups rely on the bus more than the better off; the lowest 20 per cent of earners use buses more than twice as much as the highest 20 per cent. Buses are also used more heavily by the young and the old and by a higher proportion of women than men. For many people, buses provide a vital, and sometimes the only, link between home and work, healthcare, education and leisure activities.
  3. Bus use has been in long-term decline. In 1950 16.4 billion passenger journeys were made by bus in Britain. By 2001, this had fallen to 4.3 billion. The principal reasons for the decline in bus use are rising incomes and increased car ownership. The greater freedom provided by the car has contributed to increased suburbanisation and more complex journey patterns which cannot always be served efficiently by buses. A household with access to one or more cars makes just 3 per cent of its journeys by bus: this compares to 20 per cent of journeys for households without a car.[1]
  4. The Government wishes to increase bus use over the next decade. In March 1999, the Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions published a bus policy document From Workhorse to Thoroughbred: A better role for bus travel[2] setting out a number of new policy initiatives to:

  • ensure that local authorities and bus companies work together to achieve improved bus services;
  • make services more co-ordinated;
  • provide up-to-date information and make joint ticketing widely available;
  • improve rural services; and
  • make minimum concessionary fare standards available across England.

In July 2000, it set a target for increasing bus use by 10 per cent by 2010.[3]

  1. Two key Government initiatives for improving bus services are 'quality partnerships' and 'quality contracts'. Quality partnerships involve the local authority improving the bus infrastructure (providing new bus stops, introducing bus-only lanes and giving buses priority at traffic lights) whilst the bus company improves the quality of the buses, staff training and information. Bus companies still compete between each other on the road. Quality contracts are where a local authority lets contracts for all services in its area (either on a route by route or larger area basis) and operators bid to run the routes. Quality partnerships and contracts were formalised through the Transport Act 2000.
  2. New bus lanes, improved bus shelters and new low-floor buses have been introduced on a number of major routes in cities. Some impressive local increases in bus use have been achieved. However, progress across cities and between large cities, towns and more rural areas has been patchy. Whilst in some areas, particularly London, there have been increases in bus use, in others it continues to decline. It is three years since the then Department of Environment Transport and the Regions (now the Department for Transport) published its new bus policies. The Committee decided to investigate: the progress made since the policies were launched, what lessons have been learnt from recent Government initiatives and how the strategy can be improved. In particular, our inquiry examined:
      1. subsidies in the bus industry;
      2. the result of bus challenge initiatives in rural and urban communities;
      3. the relative merits of bus quality partnerships and bus quality contracts;
      4. regulation of the bus industry including the application of the Competition Act; and
      5. the contribution of bus services to reducing social exclusion.

    This report concentrates on local bus services and school transport provision in England. Long-distance coach travel, excursion and private hire operations are outside the scope of the inquiry.

  3. Our inquiry was carried out in May 2002. The Transport Sub-Committee received more than 50 memoranda and took evidence from 17 organisations and the Minister for Transport. We are grateful to all those who assisted us in the inquiry and particularly to our specialist advisor, Professor Peter White from the Transport Studies Group at the University of Westminster and to Cheshire County Council's Transport Co-ordination Unit.


1   Focus on Personal Travel 2001 Edition, Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions, December 2001. Back

2   From Workhorse to Thoroughbred: A better role for bus travel, Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions, March 1999. Back

3   Transport 2010: The 10 Year Plan, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, July 2000. Back

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