The boss at one of the UK’s biggest bus companies – who worked with Boris Johnson during his time as London mayor – has called on the Government to deliver its promise of a national bus strategy.
David Brown, chief executive of Go-Ahead, also said ministers should take a cross-departmental approach to transport, because improving buses will also reduce loneliness, obesity and mental health problems – reducing the costs to the NHS.
He added that if the Government is determined to reduce emissions and hit environmental targets, more public money must be invested in the UK’s most popular form of public transport.
Writing in trade publication Passenger Transport, he said: “If we as a nation want to achieve the targets we have set on tackling carbon and switching to greener fuels, the Government needs to deliver its side of the bargain.
“So far there has been little detail from the Government on how it plans to shift people away from petrol and diesel power and accelerate the green agenda on our roads. We want to move to a position where the bus is seen as the first choice for local travel.
“I know how passionate Boris Johnson is about public transport. It is exciting to have someone who ‘gets buses’ in power. But it’s vital now that Government works with business and local authorities to deliver the framework we all need to get Britain on the right road ahead.”
Mr Brown has already committed Go-Ahead, which operates local buses across the country including London, Manchester and Newcastle, to operate a zero-emissions bus fleet by 2035 – 15 years ahead of the Government’s 2050 target date.
But the former Transport for London executive warned that without a proper Government strategy and funding, communities could suffer, with passenger numbers already falling due to cuts.
He added: “Some 3.5 million people still go to work by bus, and 73% of all bus journeys are taken by people in the bottom half of the income bracket.
“The affordable, inclusive and accessible transport provided by buses can form an integral part of tackling challenges such as loneliness, obesity, air pollution, social exclusion and sustainable growth.
“We want to see a cross-Government approach, embracing the opportunity to save public costs elsewhere in areas like health and social care.”
In September, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps announced plans for a national bus strategy – policies which already exist for rail, aviation, cycling and walking – with a package worth £220 million.
He said at the time: “We are committing to the UK’s first-ever long-term bus strategy and funding settlement.”
However, some in the sector are concerned that the election, along with political and economic uncertainty, could delay its implementation.
Darren Shirley, chief executive of Campaign for Better Transport, warned: “The Government needs to put forward its strategy before the spending review (due this year) so the funding is in place.
“There are questions around timings and when they will be delivered – originally it was supposed to be completed by March, but that is looking unlikely.”
He added: “Buses are the core of how people get around their towns and cities. They’re the most popular form of public transport but all we’ve seen is decline year after year in national and local funding.”
Nigel Base, commercial vehicle manager at the Society of Motor Manufacturers & Traders, agreed with the need for a new strategy.
He said: “The creation of a National Bus Strategy would help ensure greater co-ordination of bus policy across central and local government and help deliver long-term stability, rather than the fragmented approach we have now.”
A Government spokeswoman said it spends £2 billion on bus services each year.
She added: “Making journeys greener and easier will be key priorities of our upcoming National Bus Strategy.”