Accessibility and inclusion at the heart of local bus provision

Greater LTA involvement in the provision of local bus services

The past five years have seen a transition towards Bus Franchising and Enhanced Partnerships across England's Combined and Local Authorities. This has had several drivers including funding pressures on local authorities and recent service cuts - some areas outside of London are reported to have lost more than 80% of bus services since 2008 (1). The publication of the National Bus Strategy and new funding via the Bus Service Improvement Plan (BSIP) has led to greater LTA involvement in the provision of services to align the local network more closely to policy objectives around transport integration, regeneration and social inclusion. Other potential benefits include more integrated ticketing across a region, more consistent branding and design of buses, greater coordination in the electrification of fleets and a single point of accountability for service performance.

Greater LTA involvement as a driver of accessibility and inclusion

Bus Franchising and Enhanced Partnerships offer an important opportunity to reappraise approaches to accessibility and inclusion on local networks. If network change proposals and assessments fail to properly consider accessibility and inclusion, they run the risk of not improving bus patronage to the levels imagined and only encouraging bus uptake among certain segments of the population.

For example, disabled people make more trips by bus than non-disabled people (5% compared to 3%) (2) and buses are often seen as more accessible than other forms of transport such as rail. 46% of buses across England provide audio visual information and 99% have been issued with an accessibility certificate meaning they comply with the Public Service Vehicle Accessibility Regulations 2000. (3) However recent research by Transport for All found from a survey of disabled people that over half of respondents experienced issues with priority seating, 40% experienced inadequate bus stops (e.g. a lack of seating or were inaccessible due to street clutter) and 37% were impacted by a lack of real-time information on bus times – acting as a barrier to them using buses more. In addition, one third of adults over 60 reportedly do not use public transport – reporting lack of infrastructure or a poor quality network as barriers. (5) Inaccessibility also presents issues to those using prams or travelling with young children and those carrying suitcases or other large items, for example.

Rural and county areas have witnessed the biggest decline in bus availability over the past decade with 344 million fewer journeys in 2022 than in 2010.(6) In part, due to funding pressures for local authorities to subsidise non-commercially viable routes – further exacerbating the rural/urban transport divide.

Transport Scotland found that almost three quarters of surveyed women in 2022 were worried about experiencing sexual harassment on public transport (7) and London Travel Watch found that one in five LGBTQ+ persons experienced a hate crime in the past year while travelling on public transport in the capital.(8)

Safety and accessibility concerns already deter large parts of the population from using public transport - impacting both people's access to good, reliable and safe transport as well as the revenue generation of bus operators. Transport companies are estimated to be losing £42 million a month by not providing inclusive services particularly as more than one in five customers have a disability. (9)

Buses should provide alternatives to inaccessible transport options and yet still present barriers to significant parts of the population. With greater investment and greater LTA involvement, either through Franchising or Enhanced Partnership, there is the opportunity to improve buses and centrally manage how accessible and inclusive both the buses and their associated infrastructure are.

How do we ensure Enhanced Partnerships and Franchising leave no one behind?

Making public transport more accessible for everyone is good for economic, social, and environmental outcomes, as well as being good for the financial sustainability of services. Upfront funding and resources are needed to:

  • Develop clear objectives and supporting KPIs for services including social value generation, community cohesion, tackling isolation, improving access to employment and education among marginalised groups.
  • Consult with representative and diverse segments of the population including with women, LGBTQ+ persons, disabled and neurodiverse people, people of colour, digitally excluded persons, elderly people and other marginalised groups to understand current barriers to using buses.
  • Provide a robust and evidence-based Equality Impact Assessment (EQIA) developed as part of the above exercises and treated as a living document – refined and adjusted throughout the process to ensure any negative impacts on certain groups are mitigated, removed and turned into positives where possible.
  • Make the case for investment that will made in fleet and infrastructure with a specific link to the EQIA to ensure these investments are fully costed and assessed with their potential benefits to patronage and service improvements for specific groups. For example, fully costed CCTV and lighting at bus stops and fully accessible customer contact centres.
  • Develop end-to-end customer journey mapping to understand all aspects of accessibility within a journey and identify where significant areas of concern lie.
  • Continue to monitor and evaluate progress to ensure key objectives are met and patronage increases among these excluded segments of the population.

Greater Manchester has made this a stated part of their Franchising Plan with new electric vehicles that have two wheelchair bays, hearing induction loops, audio and visual announcement systems and anti-slip flooring, 500 more accessible bus stops, and real-time information displays at 300 stops.(10) This is a good start for the changes currently underway but there is more to do to ensure the benefits reach all parts of the population.

If greater efforts in accessibility and inclusion continue, the transport accessibility gap can begin to close, and these reforms can serve to help catalyse this critical change. If accessibility and inclusion principles fail to appear as key components of Bus Franchising and Enhanced Partnership assessments, regions may have achieved better transport outcomes for some, but many will continue to be left behind.









9 InnovateUK_Accessible-and-Inclusive-Transport-Report_Screen_9-3-23.pdf (