Transport User Voice December 2023 – Bus passengers charters

29 November 2023

Raising standards for passengers?

Are bus charters helping improve the passenger experience?

The national bus strategy placed a requirement on all local transport authorities to publish a passenger charter. With virtually every area having now produced an Enhanced Partnership Plan and Scheme, it seems a good opportunity to reflect on progress and success of charters.

Bus passenger charters emerged thirty years ago as a way for setting down in a clear and simple way, what passengers could expect of their bus journey. This include the bus company, service and timetable and what they could do if their expectations were not met.

Transport Focus has worked closely with more than 20 authorities and bus operators, working out what could be committed to and how to communicate that meaningfully to passengers.

We’ve supported the process over the years by publishing guidance including some of our research with bus passengers. We also held a well-attended webinar on developing charters and provided an opportunity for authorities to ask questions and clarify their thoughts.

So what should be the focus of a charter?

  • Providing clean and comfortable vehicles and friendly drivers is important to passengers.
  • Charters also needed to address passengers’ top priorities including a commitment to providing a network of routes connecting people to towns and cities.
  • Passengers need buses that normally turn up within five minutes of the schedule; and a range of value for money tickets and passes.
  • Dialogue with neighbouring authorities to resolve any differences due to administrative boundaries and avoid confusion for passengers.
  • Passengers need to aware of charters and what they say, as they are both a communication tool and show accountability of the bus company or operator.

What makes a good charter?

  • Keeping it short and clear – not using non-technical and ‘industry’ language.
  • Charters should be seen – posted on bus shelters, at bus stations and on buses as well as online.
  • Charters should be seen as an agenda-setting tool, part of the Bus Service Improvement Plan process and not an additional administrative chore.
  • Each one should be accompanied by an internal action plan which works through how operators and the authority plan to ensure each commitment is delivered.

Charters should not be static documents and there needs to be a process for monitoring performance against each commitment. This means that they can be revised and improved as standards are raised and new, stronger commitments are added.

With the investment into bus services by the government in recent months, and even more passengers choosing to use the bus, it is too early to conclude how helpful charters have been to passengers in practice.

As Transport Focus continues to provide advice and support across the industry we are confident that the concept is now more clearly understood. The documents we have seen should hopefully provide a good basis for passengers to hold the bus industry accountable for the services it provides in their area.


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