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Bus Patronage

Volume 673: debated on Thursday 12 March 2020

The Bus Services Act 2017 introduced powers for local authorities and operators to work to grow their patronage. That is in addition to the £5 billion national bus strategy that I just mentioned.

Will the Secretary of State back the “Bring Back the Buses” campaign to reconnect communities and isolated villages in my area that have lost their services?

Yes, I will gladly back that campaign. Everyone recognises that buses could and should be doing a lot more. I recognise that we have lost services over a period of time. Buses are still the chosen form of transport for 50% of travel, so it is important that we get this right. Even going back as far as 2017, we were passing legislation to ensure that franchises can work in conjunction with local authorities, and those processes are going into place. We want to see the London standard of bus service everywhere in the country.

As we have heard, the Government like to say that they support bus travel. However, they have cut bus funding for supported bus services by 45% since 2010. To make matters worse, the Chancellor has just announced 27 times more spending on new roads than on supporting buses and local transport. Will the Secretary of State tell the House when the Government will finally stop paying lip service to public transport, and actually provide the investment that bus passengers so urgently need?

I am surprised that the figure 5 with “billion” after it did not answer the hon. Gentleman’s question. We are not just paying lip service; we are doing it. What he does not seem to understand about building roads is that buses run on them.

Of the £250 million in direct revenue support for bus operators, just £43 million goes to local councils outside London. We are going to need a lot more than that if we are going to reinstate local bus services in rural areas, aren’t we?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and that is where the £5 billion national bus strategy, which we will be publishing shortly, comes in. Our aim is quite simply to get to a London standard of service throughout the country, including in rural areas and his constituency.

For £1.50 in London—which the Secretary of State mentioned—I can get two buses anywhere across the capital for up to 30 miles. In Newcastle, £1.50 will not even get me three stops up the West Road, while if I want to go to Ashington, which is 18 miles away, it will cost me £8. Can we have a comparative study of bus fares in London and the north-east so that we can understand what we need to do to make them fairer and improve bus patronage?

The hon. Lady is absolutely right. I can assure her that that is exactly the process that we will be following in developing the national bus strategy, and I would be more than happy to work with her and incorporate her ideas. We can argue about the past, but it sounds to me that we both want to see bus services that are excellent for all our constituents, so I completely agree with her.

Does the Secretary of State agree that, to get more people on the buses, we need to make them cleaner and greener? In that vein, what is the Secretary of State doing to promote the use of hydrogen?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We want buses that are cleaner and greener. We want them to be the right temperature—air-conditioned in summer, and warm in winter—with 5G plug-in points for phones. And we want to have electric buses—4,000 of them, with this new money. These new buses can be electric or, indeed, hydrogen powered, like the buses being developed by Wrightbus in Northern Ireland. We warmly welcome all such developments. My hon. Friend can be reassured that we are working closely with bus operators to develop new British buses.