Interrogating the data on ridership trends

The RECENT report by KPMG, commissioned by CPT, which attempts to understand why there has been a serious decline in bus patronage in England in the past five years, makes interesting reading. The loss of 202 million passenger journeys between 2011/12 and 2016/17 is serious, and has a number of causes, according to the report’s authors.

There’s nothing earth-shattering in the conclusions. But it is a thorough analysis that might help operators understand how they can respond. KPMG point out, however, that more than half the passenger loss is down to factors outside the control of operators such as changes in household car ownership, changes to economic and labour market structures, and changes to the availability and acceptability of alternatives to travel including online services.

Car use and ownership remains a key factor – no surprise there – with evidence drawn from the National Travel Survey showing that while individuals with no drivng licence and no access to a vehicle make an average of 181 bus trips a year, those who can drive and have full access to a car make only 14 trips. Other things having an impact are a reduction in trips to shops and the growth of online retailing, as well as changing labour markets including more part-time employment and working from home.

The study claims that operators can influence just a few of the factors, including fares and service quality, although the latter is itself affected by congestion which can only be tackled with the active cooperation of other actors, particularly local authorities. In order to achieve that cooperation, the bus sector needs to be able to demonstrate that the vehicles it is deploying are the cleanest on the road and thus merit priority access for buses to clean zones in town and city centres.

Promoting Euro 6 diesel as an ‘environmentally friendly solution’ simply won’t wash; this requires real commitment and creative solutions to deliver zero emission vehicles as soon as possible.

Running clean, green, zero emission vehicles is not just about earning environmental brownie points, it could become a matter of survival.