In the Buses Bill debate, don’t forget shared goals

With congestion estimated to cost the UK £33bn a year by 2030, operating sustainable public transport solutions will become even more important to local authorities, communities and economies.

And like all bus operators, First Bus shares the aim of local councils and the Government to get more people out of their cars and using buses.

This fundamental principle often gets missed in the heated debate about the best way to provide local bus services.

Given this common ground, we're pleased that ahead of publication of the Buses Bill Andrew Jones, the buses minister, underlined the importance of positive partnerships and talked about maintaining the status quo where operators and councils are working successfully together to improve services and increase patronage.

We are convinced that the quickest, cheapest and best way to improve bus services is through positive and active partnerships.

Bus operators across the country are working hard to improve their customer proposition and therefore attract more people on to the bus. We're seeing more investment in new buses, smart ticketing, free on-board wi-fi and other innovations.

For example, last year First announced the largest UK order for Euro 6 buses, which has helped
position us at the forefront of the industry, setting new standards of emissions and helping councils to drive really dramatic improvements in air quality.

We also have a number of really strong partnerships around the UK, including with many authorities that are actively pursuing devolution, which are achieving results for our customers – from Sheffield and Manchester to Cornwall and Bristol.

George Ferguson, the mayor of Bristol, recognises the importance of strong bus services to the local economy, and to his vision for the city. His support for policies that actively support the bus has helped us to provide higher frequencies, new buses, new service links, a strong night-time network, simplified fares, new ticketing systems and, for many, cheaper fares.

These initiatives have led to passenger growth in excess of 25%, improving the city's notorious congestion problems.

In addition we've worked hard to establish Bristol as a test bed for sustainable transport innovation. For example, we're introducing two revolutionary virtual electric buses into our Bristol fleet in partnership with the DfT, Bristol City Council and the University of the West of England. The buses use geo-fencing GPS technology, and in areas which are considered to suffer from poor air quality they run in pure electric mode producing zero emissions.

We also trialled a bus in Bristol powered by bio-methane created using human and food waste. Such has been its success, and demonstrating the strong partnerships that we have in place, we've submitted a joint bid alongside four local authorities for 110 double decker bio-methane buses for Bristol. Should our plans come to fruition, the buses will be deployed on routes in designated air
quality management areas and Bristol will by some distance run the most environmentally friendly bus fleet in the UK.

At First Bus we champion Bristol as a fantastic example of what can be achieved through partnership. Similarly, in Cornwall, we welcome the empowerment that devolution brings to the county. We are confident that if we continue to work with the authority to improve its bus network – even stepping in over a weekend to take over another operator which went bust – Cornwall won't be taking up the franchising powers which it has been given.

The message on partnerships mustn't get lost in debate on the Buses Bill. Congestion is the biggest impediment to better bus services; we need to work closely with highways authorities to achieve our shared aspirations for reduced congestion and car use, and improved air quality, encouraging public transport and modal shift.

Let's not get caught up in a stolid debate about structures.

Let's use this Bill as an opportunity to work together to achieve our shared goals by putting the bus centre stage to foster strong, vibrant and sustainable economies.

Reference: Transport Times, April 2016 Issue

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