A strategic review into the opportunities to improve the bus network across Cambridgeshire and Peterborough has included a recommendation to produce a business case exploring options for radical reform.
The Strategic Bus Review report, published today, was commissioned by the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority and has been welcomed by Mayor James Palmer as an opportunity to inject strategic leadership and a more integrated approach to the bus network across the area.
The review has analysed the current network and presents a series of opportunities for improvements. The review has seen input from many groups and stakeholders across the Combined Authority area, including feedback from user groups on the challenges they face with the current bus network.
The options available for radical reform, set down in the Bus Services Act 2017, include franchising, enhanced partnerships, advanced quality partnership schemes and advanced ticketing schemes. These options would need to be assessed through the delivery of a detailed business case, which will identify which would deliver the biggest improvement to the bus network.
A report to the Combined Authority Board’s meeting on January 30 will recommend developing and delivering this business case.
The report to the Board also highlights an opportunity to begin immediately working and negotiating with bus operators to start delivering improvements to the network as quickly as possible. This would pick up on the opportunities and initiatives identified in the Strategic Bus Review and would take place alongside the development of the business case.
To deliver these early-stage improvements, the report will recommend to the Board the setting up of a cross-organisational bus reform group. This taskforce would involve Peterborough City Council, Cambridgeshire County Council, and the Combined Authority. The taskforce would consider the findings of the review and develop a brief to serve as a basis for engagement with bus operators to improve services.
In delivering the business case, The Combined Authority has the potential to work to a very ambitious timetable. The brief, business case, as well as the necessary audit and consultation is earmarked for completion in early 2021, which would set a new precedent nationally for speed of delivery.
The review has found that the existing system of bus services will not deliver on the Combined Authority’s aspirations for improved and more integrated public transport across Cambridgeshire and Peterborough. There is a trend of falling passenger numbers on certain types of routes, particularly in rural areas, meaning they only become viable with subsidy from local authorities. The scope of the Strategic Bus Review, however, was not to make specific recommendations on existing routes and services.
Although the Combined Authority has made isolated interventions to keep services running, Mayor James Palmer has said that this is not a sustainable way forward. The bus reform taskforce, if approved, would make recommendations about subsidies for services in due course.
The review highlights potential interventions and suggested improvements to the bus network. Not all recommendations can feasibly be adopted, but the Combined Authority and partners have the opportunity, through the taskforce, to analyse and start to deliver those which will make the most positive impact.
The report, for example, identified the potential for an integrated approach to funding across the whole network, which could help reduce the subsidy burden on less well-used services.
The review has described opportunities for the better integration of bus services with wider transport, including trains, demand-responsive services, park and ride, cycle hire, community transport and community car clubs, for example. There is also potential for buses to integrate and feed into future Cambridgeshire Metro stations, which will act as transport hubs, better linking people with other local connections and journeys beyond.
The review also found clear opportunities to better link buses with key employment sites, and operate in line with modern, flexible ways of working. Seamless ticketing, timetabling and new technologies around payments and information for example, can work alongside an integrated marketing and branding strategy, to help reimagine public transport as a ‘21st Century utility’, the review says. The review describes the opportunity for a wholesale change in how public transport is delivered generally, via an integrated ‘one-stop shop’ service which is reliable, affordable and frequent.
All of these ideas are designed to explore the potential for a ‘modal-shift’, where people are encouraged to use public transport instead of the private car and reduce pressure on roads and congested areas.
Mayor James Palmer said: “For decades bus services have lacked significant national, regional or local strategic leadership and vision. As a result, we have a bus service that is often not seen as an attractive option, is frequently in decline in rural or less prosperous areas, does not link key employment areas, and is not properly integrated with other modes of transport . This has major social impacts and harms our prosperity.
“While the Combined Authority has, in isolated cases, stepped in to help keep certain services going, these sticking plasters are not sustainable. It is time to stop tinkering at the edges and reimagine what bus services should look like for the 21st Century. It is clear the vast majority of people in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough share this appetite for change.
“This strategic review has highlighted the huge opportunity the Combined Authority has to inject strategic leadership and vision into bus services, to complement our wider transport priorities.
“But we cannot deliver change, I believe, without fully exploring the case for new ways of delivering bus services, like franchising and enhanced partnerships. We will be taking the steps needed to ensure the option we take gives us the fullest ability to reform our bus network. The business case would provide us with the evidence needed to do so.
“But the public sector cannot do this alone. I am extending the offer to bus operators to work with us and share the vision and ambition needed to make the bus network in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough a model for others to follow.
“The potential is vast and exciting, but we must also be under no illusions as to how much work would be involved in delivering the change needed to our bus services. We have the potential to explore ways of improving bus services so far unseen across the UK, and within an accelerated timeframe.
“In the meantime, it is important we seize opportunities to improve the services in the short term. I back the recommendation in the report to work with our partners, including bus operators and councils, through a new taskforce, to see real change delivered quickly, so people can start to see improved services in the short term. I hope the Combined Authority Board is able to support all the recommendations in the report.”
The strategic bus review findings will also integrate with the Combined Authority’s wider Local Transport Plan document, which will be finalised in 2019. As the strategic transport authority for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, the Combined Authority is responsible for ensuring that its chosen approach to bus services joins up with its wider ambitions, strategies and policies, including its 2030 ambition for growth. That includes the ambition for people to have access to a good job within easy reach of home, to improve the sustainability of communities, to reduce congestion and to minimise impacts on the environment.
The Strategic Bus Review report can be downloaded here.