The Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport’s bus & coach policy group has released its latest paper: Factors affecting local bus demand and potential for increase. Co-authored by professor Stuart Cole, emeritus professor of transport (economics and policy), University of South Wales, and Peter White, emeritus professor of public transport systems, University of Westminster, the paper draws on evidence regarding overall demand factors and seeks to show how bus patronage has declined and how demand can be brought back.
Bus ridership in Great Britain has declined in passenger terms in recent years. Between 2004/05 and 2018/19 there were significant passenger number reductions of more than 20 per cent in Wales, Scotland and England’s metropolitan areas, while in London and in the English counties passenger numbers had increased.
However, variations exist, with southern England cities such as Brighton, Bournemouth and Bristol, and in Scotland, Edinburgh, seeing growth in bus use. In Wales, the TrawsCymru interurban bus network bucked the overall trend with an increase in its passengers from 0.473 million (2007/8) to 2.033 million (2018/19).
In England, the bus customer base pre-Covid was comprised of education and commuting trips (42 per cent), followed by shopping (20 per cent) though the latter has been falling for some years, partly, it is suggested, by increased out of town centres that are not serviced by bus.
Bus demand in Britain has been strongly affected by the pandemic. Service levels are now restored to their March 2020 levels on most routes with government support plugging the financial gap.
In the paper, a wide range of published research on bus demand is reviewed, including sensitivity to fares and service levels, along with other factors.
The authors argue that simpler fares structures may help to attract passengers such as zonal prices or a multi-ride/multi-operator ticket or contactless bank cards. These bring lower operating costs through shorter dwell times at stops. And competition from the car, cycling and walking is critical, especially in terms of overall journey time, particularly where bus priority is limited.