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House of Lords Hansard
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24 October 2019
Volume 800

Question

Asked by

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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to encourage more people to travel by bus.

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My Lords, the Government are boosting bus services, harnessing bus data and tackling congestion. To boost services, the new bus deal includes an additional £30 million on top of the £43 million already paid to local authorities. To harness data, the bus open data digital service will collate real-time location and fare data. On congestion, we will update guidance to local authorities on bus priority measures.

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My Lords, despite some one-off initiatives, which of course one welcomes, we continue to face a bus emergency. For instance, 65% of local authorities no longer provide free transport for 16 to 18 year-olds, and many bus services have been cut. Does the Minister agree that we need a national bus strategy to promote increased usage, zero-emission buses and more integrated services? Do the Government intend to reform and significantly increase funding for bus services to address the £650 million funding gap faced by local authorities and operators over concessionary fares?

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I am pleased to be able to agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson. It is critical that we have a national bus strategy. The Government have already announced that we will put in place such a strategy. Going alongside that will be our commitment to long-term funding for the bus sector.

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My Lords, I welcome the news of this bus strategy, but will the Minister look at vulnerable groups, in particular parents who are in temporary accommodation such as hostels and bed and breakfast accommodation? Very often, they can be extremely isolated and may have to make many bus journeys to see their family and friends. Will the Government please look at that in their bus strategy?

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I thank the noble Earl for raising this issue. As the Minister for loneliness in the Department for Transport, I know how important it is that we make sure that our transport system is able to get those people to where they need to go. We are currently scoping the bus strategy. I shall certainly include that within its remit.

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My Lords, in relation to a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, will my noble friend the Minister try to ensure that all new buses have details of concessionary fares on the side?

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I shall certainly take that very good point back to the department. It is also important to make sure that we make the most of the data that local operators have about their buses and collate it in one place, so that people can see information about where their bus is, and how much it will cost them, when they get on it.

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My Lords, in welcoming the strategy, I am aware that we have seen numerous stories this week about levels of pollution, particularly along school runs, so we should do everything we can to get children on to buses where appropriate. However, many buses are still very poor in terms of the pollution they create, which might take some years to go through. Is there any way in which the Government can help bus companies move more rapidly to zero emissions?

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The right reverend Prelate is right, and pollution is a key element that we are taking forward in our strategy. To date, the Government have provided £240 million, which went towards 7,000 cleaner and better buses, but we must do more. In the new bus package that was announced recently, one provision was £50 million for the first all-electric bus town or city.

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My Lords, this week, the Government announced that electric cars will be allowed to use bus lanes. Have the Government done a risk assessment of whether there will be any delays to buses using their own lanes, therefore making bus journeys longer for passengers?

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The noble Lord is right that that is one proposal on the table. It is not set in stone that it will indeed be allowed to happen, but it is important that we make sure that people feel able to take up electric vehicles. They are very important to our future carbon strategy, and of course we are looking at the impact on buses.

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Is my noble friend aware of the problems that are sometimes faced by rather old-fashioned people seeking to take a journey by bus who want to proffer their fare in money—cash?

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I thank my noble friend for his question. I am aware that that may be an issue for an increasingly small number of people.

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I would encourage them to make full use of the different fare payment options that are available.

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My Lords, for two years I was chairman of London Buses—it is the best bus service in the country—and I learned that buses are a key part of a fair society, carrying the young, the old, the sick and the poor. That is why the Labour Party has committed to £1.3 billion of additional funding to restore the 3,000 cuts made by this Government, to local regulation to optimise net social benefit and to free bus fares for young people. Will the proposed strategy match these commitments?

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I thank the noble Lord for his question, but I also point out that this Government support the bus sector to the tune of £2.2 billion from the taxpayer. That is 12% higher in real terms than under the last Labour Government. I also point out that the £1.3 billion that the Labour Party proposes putting into buses seems to be coming away from road maintenance and upgrades. That is a false economy, because one of the key issues in getting people back on buses is journey reliability, and that relies on good roads.

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My Lords, important new powers were introduced in the Bus Services Act 2017, but because they are available only to areas with elected mayors, most rural areas are excluded from them. If experience shows that these powers are effective, will the Government rethink their availability to rural areas?

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I hate to disagree with the noble Baroness, but there are two different types of powers that came in under the Bus Services Act. The first is the franchising power, and in that regard, she is right; it is available only to local elected mayors, because it needs a significant grouping of bus operators and also the population. What is available to all local authorities, and is really important, is enhanced partnerships, where the local authority works with the operator. The local authority can put in place bus priority measures and parking enforcement and, in return, the bus operator can provide better ticketing information and faster services.