UK Bus Summit: A View of the Day
On 9 February, the UK bus industry came together for its annual bus summit. Regulatory change is in the air as is industry consolidation; the Bus Services Bill, Brexit and the sale of Thamesdown Buses by Swindon Council to Go-Ahead are signs of a changing bus world. Our key messages from the Summit included fundamental questions about where the industry is heading and how it meets the challenges of new facilitators of travel such as Uber, and new concepts in mass transit, including treating mobility as a service.
Conference chair David Begg began the day comparing the geographic differences of market conditions; of growth in Oxford to major decline in Glasgow. He posed the questions of whether increasing congestion is the cause or effect of declining use, and whether public subsidy reduction is a threat to any industry currently reliant on some income from this source.
Transport Minister Andrew Jones then kicked off proceedings with an upbeat assessment of the Bus Services Bill and the influence this would give local communities over services. The Government will seek to ensure that only areas with elected mayors will benefit from franchising powers, as a quid-pro-quo for taking local responsibility for transport funding through the devolution process. The Minister was also keen to emphasise the chance to shape the secondary legislation supporting the bill through a new upcoming consultation.
The first key question of the day debated by panel members ‘what does Brexit mean for the bus industry?’ and included a discussion from SYSTRA’s Neill Birch as discussed in recent latest thinking articles. Both Val Shawcross from the London Assembly and Scottish Transport Minister Humza Yousaf gave the views of their respective administrations and concentrated on the positive impact of Europe on issues such as safety and air quality. Martin Griffiths, the CEO of Stagecoach was keen to note the effect on labour markets and that Brexit would bring change. In a later session, Robert Drewery emphasised that a practical electric city bus of 180km range is here now and that pan-European vehicle standards should still apply to the UK after Brexit, if only due to pressure on development costs and the need for commonality in product lines as workable electric vehicles and autonomous vehicles emerge.
David Begg warmed further to his congestion theme in session 2, illustrating the link between congestion and passenger usage. He saw the gains being made by cashless boarding as a temporary gain only and presented a 5-point plan for action on bus speeds. His final action area ‘to mobilise bus users’ had great resonance with the Scottish Minister’s observation that 90% of the mail he receives relates to rail issues, even though buses carry five times more passengers. Leon Daniels of TFL also spoke in this session and believes a cross-modal approach would be the way to meet the challenge of public personal mobility as provided by Uber.
Partnership working and integrating this with new technologies was a common theme throughout the day. Giles Fernely of First used the exemplar of Leigh Busway in Manchester to emphasise his view that partnerships can deliver and Laura Shoaf from Transport for West Midlands highlighted that partnership working and integrated planning and an integrated transport environment can encourage an increase in mode shift away from cars on corridors where investment is made.
The final session concentrated on potential benefits from the Bus Services Bill. John Henckel from Transport for the North moved the emphasis to fares, ticketing and information provision by seeing the transparency requirements of the Bill as essential to a customer-centric service delivery model for buses.
As an overview of the UK bus industry, the Summit provided a worthwhile experience in knowledge sharing. It showed an upbeat government and operators who were reacting positively to the changing environment, in comparison to less certainty and challenges over local authority funding, the future of Brexit and pressures over air quality.