Tackling congestion key to sustaining bus services

(Title Image: © Copyright David Dixon and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Licence. BY-SA-2.0)

This week’s short debate came from Mark Reckless AM (BXP, South Wales East) on the subject of bus services.

A vicious circle of congestion and fare increases

Mark Reckless noted from correspondence that the average speed of buses in Wales has fallen by 7% in the last two years and with every 10% drop in average speed, running costs increase by 8%.

“….as well as having buses that we want people to use to reduce congestion, the effect of that congestion, in turn, can be to reduce bus usage, because those buses slow down, they become more expensive to operate, and, if prices go up – and the average fare had increased by 6% in the year to March 2018, and I think went up 3.6% in the following year – that, in turn, reduces bus usage further. It’s a vicious circle.”
– Mark Reckless AM

Buses were often essential and cost-effective for certain groups and if bus services are not supported, it can lead to increased isolation. In some places, like Ebbw Vale, the frequency of bus services has more than halved.

There was some good news, with Welsh bus services still being relatively well-used despite lower overall use compared to England and Scotland. In Wales, the number of bus passengers has only declined by 0.3% over the last five years compared to 11% in Scotland and 5.2% in English shires.

He said the jury was out on a number of proposals included in the bus services white paper, particularly with regard to local authority control and bus franchising and whether some councils will have the expertise to be able to cope with it.

Buses central to improving public transport

Economy & Transport Minister, Ken Skates (Lab, Clwyd South), said bus services were well placed to respond to sudden changes in demand for public transport due to their inherent flexibility and lower cost compared to rail.

“Bus priority measures are hugely important and Mark Reckless has identified the need for bus services to operate in a timely and reliable fashion. We have found that the number one reason that determines whether somebody chooses to take a bus or their car is whether a bus is reliable and punctual and offers the ability to get to their destination in less time than their private motor vehicle. And so….we are investing very heavily indeed in dedicated bus lanes and in bus corridors and we’re piloting demand-responsive transport schemes.”
– Economy & Transport Minister, Ken Skates

The goal is to see a long-term gradual increase in the number of bus journeys and the Welsh Government’s measures have already resulted in a measure of stability – as mentioned earlier. A Bill to re-regulate bus services, stemming from the white paper, is set to be tabled in 2020.