It’s impossible to watch the news or pick up a paper without seeing a story about the effect Covid-19 is having, and will continue to have, on the economy. Just yesterday the UK entered a recession for the first time in 11 years.
According to a new study, the key to unlocking the nation’s financial resurgence could be found in an unexpected place – the bus network.
The study, commissioned by Greener Journeys for the Transport Knowledge Hub and conducted by KPMG, suggests investment in England’s bus networks will be central to the nation’s post-pandemic economic recovery and could generate fourfold returns that will be felt far beyond the public transport sector.
Researchers found that, prior to Covid-19, the bus was the main mode of access to city centres and that bus commuters were generating £64 billion in goods and services every year – a third of all city centre expenditure.
And they went on to conclude that targeted and strategic investment, backed by government encouragement for citizens to once again make use of public transport, has the potential to kick-start economic growth.
The study, Maximising the Benefits of Local Bus Services, looked in detail at the Department for Transport’s announcement in February this year of £5 billion in new funding over the next five years and, more specifically, the £3 billion it has earmarked for buses.
DfT has already suggested allocating £1 billion of that funding to support the introduction of 4,000 new zero emission buses across the country. Therefore, the report is primarily concerned with how best to allocate the remaining £2 billion used to transform local services.
This £2 billion investment, they say, would generate 425 million additional bus journeys per year in England outside of London with each £1 invested generating £4.48 in wider social, economic and environmental benefits.
Furthermore, they believe that the positive effects of such investment would be felt nationwide, with every local authority area in England outside of London seeing at least a 20% increase in patronage and enjoying the wider economic benefits that come with it.
While the report does not make recommendations, it concludes, “We estimate that the efficient allocation of £1.5 billion to bus-related infrastructure and services would generate enough demand to ‘level-up’ patronage levels between areas. This would enable all local authority areas to reach patronage levels currently only observed in the best performing areas – after taking account of the socio-economic characteristics of each area. An additional £500 million of investment, would enable those local areas that are currently performing well in terms of their patronage per capita to grow demand further, shifting the ‘patronage frontier’ to new levels.
“Taken together, investment to ‘level-up’ patronage between areas and shift the ‘patronage frontier’ in high performing areas would see bus use grow overall by approximately 425 million journeys per year in 2024/25 – an increase of 23% relative to the Do Minimum scenario.” “Given the importance of good public transport networks to local communities”, it continued, “the focus of operators, local authorities and central government will be on making the right investments in the short and medium terms to support decarbonisation, improve economic connectivity and social accessibility and strengthen the financial sustainability of the sector.”
Claire Haigh, Chief Executive of Greener Journeys, welcomed the findings of the report and called on government to act on its findings.
She said, “The PM may have dropped the avoid public transport message, but he is still encouraging people to use alternative means of transport wherever possible. This won’t be enough to restart the economy. The fundamental role of mass transit in facilitating economic activity is as essential today as it ever was.
“We need a green recovery and that will require a massive shift from private transport to public, shared and active travel. The forthcoming national bus strategy must maximise the potential of the bus to tackle pollution, reduce social deprivation and reignite the economy.”