There was a great deal of passion for ensuring that the North of England has the best bus services possible, and, while the approaches suggested may differ in their implementation, it was refreshing to hear so many voices focused on one thing, driving up bus patronage!
Arriva is deeply invested in the North of England. We run around 1,800 vehicles across the region every single day and directly employ over 5,300 men and women. They connect communities, link our customers with jobs, healthcare and education.
In my remarks I welcomed the national bus strategy and its focus on customers and driving up bus usage. Getting people on buses after the pandemic is a win, win, win situation - good for government, good for passengers and good for operators. Road traffic is reduced, urban air quality is improved, the burden of subsidy is eased from the taxpayer, private operators can innovate to improve services for customers, and it helps local and regional government achieve their climate change targets. We also know that using public transport helps to tackle loneliness and encourages more active lifestyles as these passengers are more likely to make use of active travel options.
So how do we do this? Well, we must understand what our customers actually want from their buses. From speaking to our customers, we know they want bus services that deliver the fundamentals above all else: they want a reliable service, shorter journey times and fares that offer value for money. This is how we bring people back to bus and to attract new customers.
However, we cannot deliver all of these basics by ourselves.
We know that road congestion puts people off travelling by bus. Our research shows that reliability and journey times rank amongst the most pressing issues for bus users. We will need to work with public transport authorities to deliver what the National Bus Strategy says it expects in this respect. That is, “to see plans for bus lanes on ANY roads where there is a frequent bus service, congestion and physical space to install one”. It is this type of bold approach that can really ‘turn the dial’ and avoid a car-led recovery. Let’s work together and get those measures put in as quickly as possible to speed up journey times - we can even tell authorities where they’re needed!
Central to delivering these goals will be quality partnerships with regional and local government. We need a genuine partnership with Passenger Transport Authorities that’s practically focused and built on mutual respect and obligations, and a partnership that places the interests of passengers and potential passengers first.
Arriva is already out there talking to our partners in the areas in which we operate because we know that we must deliver at pace.
In closing, it was clear that the will to improve bus services in the North exists - we just need to work together and grab the opportunity the National Bus Strategy has given to us to make it happen.