Transport User Voice – January 2022 – How can buses be better?

16 December 2021

A look at our National Bus Strategy work

We’ve been working tirelessly this year to make sure the National Bus Strategy leads to better services for passengers. 

The Government announced in early 2020 that it would be putting £3 billion into improving buses across the country. We want to make sure passengers are at the forefront of all decisions.  

We’ve talked to local transport authorities and operators about developing Bus Service Improvement plans (BSIPs) and Enhanced Partnership Plans (EPPs). We produced guidance documents and ran webinars on each one. Improving local bus services is a continuous process, not a one-off event, and Transport Focus is in it for the long term.  

BSIPs include targets up to 2029/30 and EPPs are likely to be made for at least five years. Bus franchising will take years, not months, to be fully introduced before it makes any impact.  

We will continue to work with authorities and operators, offering bespoke passenger research and advice as they aim to deliver on their commitments and strive to meet their targets. Below are some of the areas in which we think we can add the most value. 

Passenger research 

The interruption to our bus and rail passenger surveys during the pandemic caused us to rethink how best we can carry out regular passenger satisfaction research. We have been trialling different ways of seeking passengers’ views in discussion with a number of operators and authorities and hope to be able to launch a new survey in spring. 

We will continue to report on passenger priorities for improvement. While it remains necessary, we will continue to research passenger attitudes to travelling by bus during the pandemic. 

National and bespoke advice 

Building on our published guidance, as well as the discussions we have already had with numerous operators and authorities up and down the country, we’ll continue to advise on the Bus Passenger Charters.  

These will be produced by all operators and are short, punchy documents setting out what passengers can expect every time they use the bus. It should also include what passengers should do if their expectations are not met.  

Charters make the bus industry accountable for the services it delivers and can be seen as a key tool in driving up business. We will advise on how to assess performance against charter commitments and work with local partners to drive up standards. 

The benefits of a good passenger charter may be lost if complaints are not handled well. Our previous research into the handling of passenger complaints suggested that there was room for improvement. We will follow up to see how far our recommendations have been followed and help where we can in meeting passengers’ expectations.  

We will work with operators and authorities to refine ways of monitoring performance against BSIP passenger growth, punctuality, and reliability targets. This is to make sure that they are detailed enough to identify areas that require the plan to be adjusted.  

We will ask the questions that passengers want us to ask, such as how effective investment has been in driving up standards and whether partnerships are prioritising the right areas. We will also advise on how progress should be reported to maximise accountability based on our passenger research. 

Our most recent guidance reminded local transport authorities of their statutory duty to include a plan for consulting users on how well their enhanced partnership is working. It set out a checklist of elements that we would expect to see addressed in such a plan. We will work with the bus industry to ensure that they are delivered. 

All in all, we’ve had a productive year working with the bus industry and making sure passengers are prioritised. We look forward to what next year holds.  

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