Why are more people in Cornwall choosing the bus?

08 February 2024

How can the industry entice people back onto the bus? We saw from the £2 fare cap that value for money is a key factor to help get bus passengers back on board.

Cornwall was one of the few authorities where the number of people using the bus was rising prior to Covid, and while it took a hit during the pandemic it is now almost back to pre-Covid levels.

Cornwall participated actively over many years in our Bus Passenger Survey. Although bus passenger satisfaction scored well above the national average, passenger satisfaction with value for money remained stubbornly low – in 2019 performance was amongst the lowest of all the areas we surveyed at 57 per cent. Cornwall’s determination to get to the bottom of this led it to propose a bus fares pilot, which the Department for Transport agreed to fund. The pilot aimed to simplify and lower fares.

In 2022, fares were lowered by an average of 36 per cent – day tickets were reduced from £9 to £5, weeklies were cut down to £20 from £28 and ‘Tap & Cap’ was introduced. To make travelling simpler, passengers can now also use their ticket across different operators. Passenger satisfaction with value for money, measured by our new Your Bus Journey survey was 80 per cent in June 2023.

Of course, the ultimate measure of success is more people using buses. Since its start in April 2022, over 20 per cent more Bus Fares Pilot passengers, as part of the Bus Fares Pilot, travelled in the first six months of 2023/24 than the same period of 2022/23.

Transport Focus has been working with Cornwall Council and the main bus operators, in particular First Kernow and Go Cornwall, for many years. Nowhere has our message about the importance of using passenger research to drive improvements been embraced more. Their latest round of research involved 18 focus groups of users and non-users between July and October last year. The findings covered issues such as journey planning, barriers to bus use and awareness of ticket products and pricing and will be studied carefully to see where improvements can be made.

A push from Transport Focus helped Cornwall to be one of the first areas to start to develop a Bus Passenger Charter that clearly sets out what passengers can expect from operators delivering services across their area. We helped them to write it, insisting that it needed solid commitments which reflected the things that matter most to passengers. They will look to strengthen commitments in subsequent reviews, with the first review about to take place.

At a recent session, we talked the Council and bus operators through the interim results of the 2023 Your Bus Journey survey. We recommended that the partnership digs deep into their headline performance figures, asking questions to enable them to pinpoint where action appears to be working and where further action is needed. We are pleased that the Council has agreed to set up a working group to investigate and we have been invited to lead an initial session. This is exactly how Your Bus Journey is designed to work.

The challenge now is to maintain this improvement, Transport Focus will continue to support Cornwall’s efforts to sustain and build upon these developments for years to come.

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