The 36 bus route between Leeds, Harrogate and Ripon hailed as a 'pocket of hope' for struggling sector as Boris Johnson unveils £3bn bus strategy

A premium bus route connecting Ripon, Harrogate and Leeds has been highlighted as one of the "pockets of hope" in the country's struggling bus sector as Boris Johnson unveiled a £3bn overhaul of the current system.

The Prime Minister is unveiling a shake-up of the bus sector which aims to see lower, simpler flat fares in towns and cities, turn-up-and-go services on main routes, and new flexible services to reconnect communities.

The Department for Transport (DfT) said the strategy will see passengers across England benefiting from more frequent, more reliable, easier to use, better coordinated and cheaper bus services.

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It is hoped levelling-up services across the country will encourage more people to take the bus rather than use their car.

The 84-page Bus Strategy published yesterday included several examples of success. Among them was The 36, a premium bus route linking Ripon and Harrogate with Leeds which is run by the Harrogate Bus Company.

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Changes include hundreds of miles of new bus lanes, fares with daily price caps so people can use the bus as many times a day as they need, more services in the evenings and at weekends, and all buses will accept contactless payments.

To help people easily move from bus to train, there will be integrated services and ticketing across all transport modes, the DfT said.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said bus services across England are "patchy, and it's frankly not good enough", adding: "The quality of bus service you receive shouldn't be dependent on where you live."

But the 84-page Bus Strategy published yesterday included several examples of success, described as "pockets of hope" and "places where significant growth has been seen despite the national trends".

Among them was The 36, a premium bus route linking Ripon and Harrogate with Leeds which is run by the Harrogate Bus Company.

The report says it "offers a sophisticated and comfortable service which has transformed the passenger experience and encouraged people to make the switch to bus".

It adds: "Achieving consistent growth, the number of passengers using the 36 has nearly doubled over 15 years.

"Along with a high frequency timetable, the spacious and comfortable buses, which include USB power outlets, superfast WiFi and a glazed panoramic roof, have earned the route 36 service a customer satisfaction score of 97 per cent and more than 50 per cent of customers, who have a car available, choose to use the 36 instead."

The report says: "We know what can work and how the cycle can be broken. It needs local transport authorities (LTAs) and bus operators to work together to put passengers first.

"Where operators understand their passengers, offer great customer service and have clean, modern fleets; and LTAs invest to give buses priority on busy roads and junctions, and put buses at the heart of their local transport planning."

The DfT said it expects to see local authorities and operators working together to deliver bus services that are so frequent that passengers can just "turn up and go", no longer needing to rely on a traditional timetable and no longer having to wait more than a few minutes.

Mr Johnson said: "Buses are lifelines and liberators, connecting people to jobs they couldn't otherwise take, driving pensioners and young people to see their friends, sustaining town centres and protecting the environment.

"As we build back from the pandemic, better buses will be one of our first acts of levelling-up.

"Just as they did in London, our reforms will make buses the transport of choice, reducing the number of car journeys and improving quality of life for millions."

Outside London the number of people using buses has been declining for years but the trend has been much more pronounced during the pandemic because of the numbers of people working from home.

A report by WYCA says the current deregulated model in place outside the capital which gives political leaders virtually no say over bus services "is unlikely to be appropriate for the post COVID environment".

Currently the combined authority, which is responsible for transport policy across the county and promoting economic growth, has what is described as a "light touch" relationship with bus operators in the form of a 'Voluntary Partnership Agreement'.

The option of franchising, where local authorities determine the details of the services to be provided such as where they run, when they run and the standards of the services, is being considered.

But the authority last year proposed to develop an 'enhanced partnership', where civic leaders come up with a vision for what bus services ought to look like and targets for improvements but require the support of operators for it to proceed.

Kim Groves, Chair of the West Yorkshire Combined Authority Transport Committee, said: “It is now widely accepted that deregulation has not delivered the bus service our region needs.

"The Government’s emphasis on partnership between local government and bus operators is a positive step and we have already set out how we want to strengthen our work through the West Yorkshire Bus Alliance to deliver better deals on fares, consistent standards across services and improved travel information. We continue to review the case for franchising.

“The dramatic fall in passenger numbers through the pandemic has created huge economic pressures and we will need long-term funding in local control to recover and then dramatically grow the number of people using bus services in the coming years.”

Paul Matthews, Managing Director First West Yorkshire, said: "First West Yorkshire wholeheartedly welcomes the national bus strategy as it rightly recognises the crucial role of buses right across our communities; helping boost local high streets and supporting economic recovery.

"Delivered through effective partnerships, the strategy should present a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to improve bus services for customers.”

"First West Yorkshire is confident that we are in a strong position to meet future challenges and grasp the opportunities presented by working with our partners in local and regional government both during the hugely important recovery phase and then through an agile and focused enhanced partnership.

"By working together we can achieve our shared objectives of restoring passenger confidence to travel, transforming customer experiences and accelerating the decarbonisation of the bus sector.”

TUC Yorkshire regional secretary Bill Adams said: “The government’s recognition that the wild west free market in buses must end is welcome and long awaited.

“It is only by recognising the failed 36 year record of bus privatisation that has led to a catastrophic decline in bus patronage in Yorkshire, whilst local control of bus services in London has led to record growth, that we can begin to plan for a better bus service for our communities and our climate."