Bus passenger numbers in cities have halved since deregulation

BUS passenger numbers have halved in English metropolitan areas outside London since services were deregulated in 1986, according to provisional Government figures.

Before 1986, metropolitan areas like South and West Yorkshire controlled bus services and were able to set low fares with the help of subsidies.

But the then-Conservative government decided bus services should be run on a commercial basis, which has led to higher fares and a less convenient service in some areas.

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In contrast, bus patronage in London, where services are run privately but are still regulated, has more than doubled in the past 25 years.

The latest figures released by the Department for Transport show there were 1.03 billion passenger journeys on local bus services in English metropolitan areas (excluding London) in 2011/12.

This compared with a figure of more than 2.06 billion in 1985/86, the last year before deregulation. Passenger numbers in 2011/12 also fell by 2.3 per cent on the previous year’s figure.

Going further back, the English metropolitan area passenger journey figure in 1975 was as high as 2.59 billion and was nearly three billion in 1970.

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The provisional figures also showed there were 1.28 billion passenger journeys made in English non-metropolitan areas in 2011/12 – a fall of 0.2 per cent on the 2010/11 figure.

The rate of patronage in English non-metropolitan areas has also declined since deregulation, but at a much slower rate than in metropolitan areas.

Bus fares in South Yorkshire were famously held as low as 2p per trip before 1986 and South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive (SYPTE) said the fall in passenger numbers demonstrated the failure of deregulation.

David Brown, SYPTE Director General, said: “These figures are testament to the fact that deregulation has simply not delivered what the Government claimed it would.

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“The regulated London market has doubled its patronage whilst the deregulated cities beyond have seen passengers halve over the same period.

“We are however working to try to bring more investment to bus services to try to arrest this trend. Schemes like the Bus Rapid Transit link from Sheffield to Rotherham, our proposed Sheffield Bus Partnership and investment in smartcards will all help to make bus travel more attractive for people.”

Metro, which is responsible for bus services across West Yorkshire, said passenger numbers had fallen from around 310 million in 1986/7 to 180 million. As well as increased fares and less convenient services, increased use of the private car was cited as a key reason for falling passenger numbers.

A spokesman said Metro believed the way to reverse the decline in bus patronage was to create a value-for-money network which was stable in terms of route changes and fares.

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London bus usage continues to rise, helped by travelcards such as Oyster and Freedom Passes for senior citizens.

In 2011/12, there were 2.32 billion passenger journeys on buses in London – 2.4 per cent more than in 2010/11. The London journey figure had dipped as low as 1.04 billion in 1982 and was still only 1.15 billion in 1985/86.

Asked about the impact of deregulation, a Department for Transport spokeswoman said: “Our policy paper, Green Light for Better Buses, sets out a comprehensive set of measures to help local authorities play their part in providing better, greener and more innovative bus services.

“These proposals have been carefully formulated to attract more people onto buses.”