This included a range of supporting measures, including a National Bus Strategy for England, measures to reduce congestion and improve frequency in urban areas, restore services in rural areas, keep down fares and tackle air quality.
On 6th February 2020, the DfT has announced that it is seeking bids for three expressions of interest:
This announcement also includes details of how local authorities can access the additional £30 million for improving current bus services, or restoring lost services.
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In its campaign for a Rural Strategy, the Rural Services Network has focused on creating ‘A place that everyone can get around’. It emphasised that people of all ages must have the means to travel to services, jobs and other opportunities. Not least those in the one in nine rural households that do not have a car. Transport is crucial to life opportunities and its absence can compound isolation and loneliness.
It called for Government to search for new rural solutions and suggested that there is more scope to build on the learning from Total Transport pilot projects, which the Rural Mobility Fund looks to do.
John Birtwistle, Head of Policy at FirstGroup PLC and Rural Services Partnership Director commented on these initiatives:
“We welcome the government’s announcement of increased spending on buses as we consider that the bus has the opportunity to increase economic prosperity, improve the environment, reduce carbon and emissions production and improve the social well being and health of the population, in rural as well as urban areas. We hope that this is the start of the process of providing much needed assistance in promoting the role of the bus.
We have been seeking a National Bus Strategy for some years and this is a welcome development.
Looking at the funding packages, the electric bus town is unlikely to benefit rural areas other than peripherally as many rural routes are not yet proven as suitable for electric buses given the constraints on their daily operation. The opportunity for electrification of small rural depots is unlikely to be provided by this initiative.
Demand responsive systems for rural applications need to overcome the historic problems of excessive staff cost and unsustainable business models due to extreme sparsity of demand, and it is hoped that this new fund might provide a lifeline for some communities struggling to sustain their current bus services, or where these have recently been lost due to local authority spending cuts or undue pressures on commercial operation.
The new Superbus proposals are as yet not clearly defined in how they will be implemented, but they offer the possibility of revitalising use of bus services through a virtuous circle of better and cheaper services, leading to increased usage, thereby reducing congestion and making services more efficient to operate and more attractive to passengers, leading to further increased usage and a long term sustainable network. This is just as possible in rural areas as in urban ones.
The specific fund for maintaining existing supported services or reinstating those recently lost should complement all of the above. Local authorities must work with their local operator partners to use their expertise and experience to ensure that the best opportunities for achieving value for money are pursued, under all these new initiatives.”
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