Five times more funding needed to ‘bus back better’ in rural England

22 March 2021

  • The government will need to invest five times the amount it pledged last week for buses to provide everyone with ‘cheap, reliable and fast’ bus journeys.

The government’s National Bus Strategy is woefully unambitious and will continue to deliver ‘wholly inadequate’ bus services, especially in rural areas, according to a new report from CPRE, the countryside charity.

The Every village, every hour report outlines how the government could reach its own ambition of delivering radically improved bus services across the country by investing £2.7 billion a year. This is five times more than the Prime Minister and Transport Secretary pledged last week when launching new funding of £3bn over five years in the National Bus Strategy.

The announcement is a one-off splurge when what we need is continuous, year on year funding to connect every community with ‘cheap, reliable and fast’ bus journeys. And CPRE’s modelling shows that, with the right investment, the government can deliver a world- leading bus network capable of matching Swiss standards where every village of two to three hundred people is guaranteed at least an hourly bus service from 6am to midnight, 7 days a week.

One way of achieving this would be to redirect just a portion of the funding for the government’s legally embattled and widely criticised £27 billion road building schemes to instead properly fund buses. This could provide more than enough money to pay for CPRE’s vision, with enough left over to make fares free across these services.

Crispin Truman, chief executive of CPRE, the countryside charity, said:

‘Rural communities up and down the country know from painful first-hand experience the impacts of underfunding our bus services. Too many have been languishing in so-called transport deserts where those who do not have access to a car are left high and dry with no practical way to get to work, school or doctors. Public transport for rural communities has been wholly inadequate for long enough.

‘Our new research shows that the Prime Minister’s recently announced investment in buses, while seemingly impressive, is a fraction of what’s actually needed to realise the vision espoused by ministers.

‘To avoid another situation where rhetoric doesn’t meet delivery, we’re calling on the government to significantly raise the level of investment in our ailing bus services and recognise a universal basic right to public transport. Our research shows this investment will pay dividends – that’s why bigger bucks for buses is an absolute no brainer.’

This report builds upon previous research from CPRE which found that over a million people in the south west and north east live in so-called ‘transport deserts’ or areas where the only practical form of transport is the private car. While the Transport Minister rightly stated that ‘everyone deserves to have access to cheap, reliable and quick bus journeys,’ our analysis shows the amount invested by the government will fall woefully short of what is needed to reach every part of the country with decent public transport.

It is often overlooked that bus services provide numerous public goods and are essential for the many people across England who do not have access to a car. Improved bus services in rural areas have the potential to change lives – we know that this kind of investment will disproportionately benefit low income families, the elderly and the young. By providing an alternative to private car travel, local bus services can reduce traffic, air pollution, while boosting high street spending, employment, social mobility and equality.

CPRE is calling on the government to recognise a universal basic right to public transport to provide Swiss-style service standards to villages and towns that must be legally enforced.

For further information, case studies or to interview a spokesperson, please contact Jonathan Jones, CPRE Media Relations Lead, 020 7981 2819/ 078 3529 1907

Notes to editors

About ‘Every village, every hour: a comprehensive bus network for rural England’

The analysis underpinning this report was commissioned as a result of CPRE’s concern about the long-standing and intensifying social, economic and environmental damage that inadequate public transport provision is causing in rural areas. It has been conducted by Christopher Hinchliff, CPRE and Ian Taylor, Transport for Quality of Life.

The model takes four rural local authority districts as examples of different levels of rurality and creates a ‘Swiss-style’ bus network for them. This network is based on a set of ‘arterial services’ on routes that have potential for full commercial viability once there is recovery to pre-coronavirus conditions. ‘Capillary services’ were added to complement the ‘arterial’ services, on routes designed to take in all villages of significant size.

The vehicle distance that must be driven to operate this network of services (‘bus-kilometres’) is measured and costed, with different options for fare levels, frequency, days and hours of operation. The model also includes an option to add different levels of demand-responsive service to provide services for places and times not covered by the scheduled service network. The model considers four districts covering the three different official rural-urban classification (RUC) categories and scales up from these to cover all rural areas of

The report findings are that an every village every hour 6am-midnight, 7 days a week service would cost £2.7 billion per annum. To deliver these services with a £1 flat fare would raise the cost to £3 billion per annum.