The government has announced a new bus strategy. Does it do enough?

15th March 2021

Boris Johnson has today announced a £3bn investment in the country’s bus services, but we check the detail and call for far greater ambition.

The Prime Minister’s new bus strategy, launched today, claims to ‘level up’ bus provision. But while we’re pleased to see a commitment to improving bus services, we’re asking the government to aim much, much higher and ensure that rural public transport isn’t once again left behind.

‘You need a car to live in the countryside – and that’s not right’

It’s no surprise that we at CPRE welcome any steps to improve bus services. It’s a subject that we’re passionate about and have campaigned on – and many of you have added your voices to our call for better buses.

Our director of campaigns and policy, Tom Fyans, described improvements as ‘long overdue’, pointing to CPRE research that shows that more than half of the rural towns in England’s south west and north east are already, or at risk of becoming, ‘transport deserts’ – meaning that residents there are left with almost no option but to drive a car.

'More than half of the rural towns in England’s south west and north east are already, or at risk of becoming, ‘transport deserts.'

We’ve been calling for bus provision that truly connects our countryside communities. Right now, our towns and villages are seeing their young people drain away to reach opportunities they cannot access where they grew up, while older residents’ horizons are shrunk by a transport curfew on their social and economic lives. Too many people are telling us that you need a car to live in the countryside – and that’s not right.

This isn’t a foregone conclusion or an inevitable side effect of living in a rural area: it’s the impact of decades of lost funding and of not being prioritised by successive governments. So does this new strategy address these issues?

‘We need to aim much higher’

As Tom notes, a one-off investment of £3bn might sound a lot but it’s ‘really just an expensive sticking plaster after a decade of cuts to rural bus services.’

At CPRE, we have clear proposals for what we know will make our communities better connected and keep us all healthier, happier and more able to travel to wherever we need – whether that’s to work or college or to help us explore the countryside more easily. This strategy falls far from that ambition.

Tom says:

‘Our towns and villages need committed, long-term funding to deliver a comprehensive bus network for the whole country, with a reliable service for every community. Countries like Germany and Switzerland are already showing this is possible.

'The Prime Minister is right; everyone deserves to have access to cheap, reliable and quick bus journeys.'

‘The Prime Minister is right; everyone deserves to have access to cheap, reliable and quick bus journeys. To make these words a world-leading reality there should be a fully-funded commitment to minimum service standards for our rural towns and villages.’

Be a part of making buses better

We’ll keep calling for more improvements on this issue – far from being satisfied by this strategy, we’re more galvanized than ever to push for the bus services that our countryside communities deserve.

You can add your voice by signing our petition for bus services for every rural community now, and help us keep up the pressure on the government by making a donation to keep us motoring on with this essential campaign. Thanks for being a part of it.

Call for reliable buses for all.
Three people standing beside a bus parked by a field
Rural bus services improve lives for those in countryside communities and for visitors Chris O'Donovan / CPRE

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