Cheaper bus fares vital to winning passengers back

"My normal single ticket is £3.70 and I am therefore making a saving every time I catch the bus. I am now taking the opportunity to try places I haven't been to for a while and travelling by bus."

Time and again, bus passengers tell us they want simpler, better value for money fares. Never has this been truer as the country faces the cost of living crisis.

To understand the current challenges and understand what might encourage more people to take the bus, Transport Focus has looked into the impact the £2 new bus fare is having. In our latest survey we spoke to people to understand their awareness of the capped fare and whether it has led to more journeys being made on buses.

The costs of the average single bus fare at £2.80 can be prohibitive to some and even more so for those in rural areas where tickets can cost over £5. With savings of almost a third the latest extension of the £2 capped bus fare scheme is a welcome step to help attract passengers back on board and encourage non-users to give bus a go. Schemes like this will be vital as we look to recover from the pandemic, reduce CO2 emissions and tackle congestion.

Encouragingly, over half of the people we spoke to in our survey said they were aware of the £2 fare. This was higher among regular bus users, with at least two thirds aware. Seven per cent say they are already using the bus more because of the £2 fare, while almost a third say they might use buses more but haven't yet. While it's still early days, these results are encouraging and show signs that the fare is making its mark.

Awareness of the fare is highest in Yorkshire and Humberside followed by the North West. It is interesting to see the impact in these regions where considerable efforts, since local fare deals were introduced in Autumn 2022, have been made to promote the schemes by the West Yorkshire Combined Authority and the Liverpool City Region.

Other data also shows the new fare is having a positive impact. Our latest Bus User Survey shows a rise in bus passenger satisfaction with value for money. 73 per cent of bus passengers were satisfied with value for money, the highest since the survey began in September 2021.

What people told us about the £2 bus fare provides a real insight into some of the challenges people are facing and the impact the scheme is having so far. Some passengers told us they are travelling more due to the new fare:

"My usual return fare to the nearest town is £9.60, so to be able to do the same journey for £4 for a while is amazing. I have no car so am reliant on buses, so this is a great incentive to have and will give me more mobility and options, whilst saving money also."

Some people said they might use bus more:

"It used to be extortionate to get from my house in the outer suburbs to the town centre and not value for money as only a 15 min ride but now I feel it is fair."

While some said it would make no difference to their use of buses:

"From where I live a £4 return journey is still more expensive than using a car park in town."

We will continue to talk to bus passengers and use our insight to help Government, bus operators and local authorities focus efforts on what matters most. It's clear that the industry is at a pivotal moment and action is needed to make bus a viable choice. The extension of the Bus Recovery Grant is a welcome step to support critical services which so many people rely on.

We're following up this work with the launch of our new satisfaction survey, 'Your Bus Journey'. Building on over a decade of running the previous Bus Passenger Survey and working with the industry we have found new and innovative ways to capture and report on what bus passengers want from their journeys. The survey will be used to make the case for future improvements and identify good practice. This will help the industry to invest in the things that matter most to current and future bus passengers.

Listening to passengers and measuring how satisfied they are will be crucial in Enhanced Partnerships. We know that Local Transport Authorities want to understand how different initiatives impact on passenger satisfaction and compare how they perform against other areas.

Now is the time for the right support to help passengers continue accessing reliable and affordable bus services. Let's hope that new habits can form which stick and continue to be underpinned by Government funding in the long term.