COVENTRY – soon to become one of two UK all-electric bus towns – was chosen for Prime Minister Boris Johnson to launch a new national public transport strategy.
During his visit to the National Express depot he outlined a 10-point plan for sustainable transport and to bring about lower, simpler flat fares in towns and cities.
There would, he said, also be on demand ‘turn-up-and-go’ services on main routes and flexible services to reconnect communities.
The strategy is being backed by £3billion of investment which will see the whole of England benefit from more frequent, more reliable, easier to use and understand, better co-ordinated and cheaper bus services.
Billed as the most ambitious shake-up of the bus sector in a generation, it is aimed at encouraging more people to use buses.
Fares will have daily price caps so people can use the bus as many times a day without mounting costs, more evening and weekend services will be available, contactless payments will be introduced and integrated services will make swapping from bus to train much easier.
The Government has also pledged to deliver 4,000 new British-built electric or hydrogen buses to provide clean, quiet, zero-emission travel transition cities and regions to safeguard the UK bus manufacturing industry.
Under the proposals, local authorities and operators will work closer together on the on demand services so people do not need to rely on traditional timetables which have in the past been unreliable.
Mr Johnson said: “Buses are lifelines and liberators, connecting people to jobs they couldn’t otherwise take, driving pensioners and young people to see their friends, sustaining town centres and protecting the environment.
“As we build back from the pandemic, better buses will be one of our first acts of levelling up.
“Just as they did in London, our reforms will make buses the transport of choice, reducing the number of car journeys and improving quality of life for millions.
“The fragmented, fully commercialised market, which has operated outside London since 1986, will end.
“We want to see operators and local councils enter into statutory ‘enhanced partnerships’ or franchising agreements to receive the new funding and deliver the improvements.
“It is expected that many councils will choose enhanced partnerships, where local authorities work closely with bus companies, drawing on their operating knowledge and marketing skills.
“Others may decide that franchising works better for them.”
The Government will also consult later this year on reforming the Bus Service Operators Grant – the current main stream of government bus funding – to achieve the same objectives.
Ignacio Garat, Group Chief Executive of National Express, said: “We were delighted to welcome the Prime Minister to Coventry and show him our newest electric buses in operation.
“Last year we committed to never again buying a diesel bus in the UK, and we are well on track to deliver our target of a fully zero emissions bus fleet by 2030.
“The National Bus strategy comes at a vital time, and we fully embrace the proposals for operators to work in partnership with local authorities to deliver cleaner, greener services that meet the needs of customers who are increasingly turning to public transport for their daily journeys.
“This is exactly the approach we have adopted across the West Midlands for many years, where we have continually improved services while keeping fares down.”
Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands, said: “Buses are the backbone of public transport in the West Midlands, carrying more than 250million people every year.
“Today’s strategy is therefore very welcome, and will enable big city regions such as ours to ensure buses remain at the heart of our future transport plans.
“Residents here want clean, decarbonised buses that are affordable and continue to remain reliable and punctual, and that’s what the new strategy laid out today will deliver.”