It is rather strange that bus use is declining in many parts of the country. Yet, those who use bus like it. Indeed, Transport Focus's most recent Bus Passenger Survey showed that nearly nine out of ten passengers liked their most recent bus journey.
But why don't more people use the bus? Certainly, for many, buses are vital for getting to work, studies, medical appointments or seeing friends and family. Supported by the Mayor of West Midlands, we are launching our 'Give Bus a Go' campaign in Wolverhampton to answer this key question and gather insights into what needs to be done to get more people to use bus in the region.
The picture of bus use in the West Midlands is that 25 per cent of those who currently don't use the bus would consider doing so. One fifth of journeys currently made by car could well be made by bus: just think of the positive impact on congestion and environmental benefits of that shift in journeys! Buses are the most popular form of public transport in the region with 260 million bus journeys a year. There has even been a 1 per cent rise in use!
Transport Focus has recruited a group of people – 'Busketeers' - from the region. These people do not normally use the bus, and we are asking them to feed back their experiences of their bus travels through an app. Their experience should let us see what benefits they find and what improvements are needed.
Current passengers have told us that their top three proprieties for improvement are more frequent services, better punctuality and buses going to more places they want to go to. But we also need to understand better what non-users need.
So, the findings from the Busketeers will form the basis of discussions with operators and local authorities on how they can improve their service to encourage more people to see that bus is an attractive option for them. Transport Focus chairs the West Midlands Bus Alliance which puts us in a good position to generate discussions and meet the challenges. Our involvement has seen how responsive they are in improving the passenger experience first hand.
But don't wait for us. Why not encourage someone who doesn't use the bus to do so? They can feed their experiences through on the campaign website or by tweeting about their experiences using #GiveBusAGo on social media.
Anthony Smith is Chief Executive of the independent transport user watchdog Transport Focus.