Centre for Cities calls for mayors to reverse outdated bus service deregulation and double passenger numbers

A new Centre for Cities’ report, supported by three bus operators, has called on England’s metro mayors to take control of bus networks to double passenger numbers.

Press release published on 13 November 2019

  • Urges all metro mayors to step up and use their powers to franchise bus services in order to improve passenger uptake and access to buses
  • The next Government should simplify the franchising process and back this model everywhere
  • Think tank criticises deregulation for creating ‘local private monopolies’ that failed to deliver on the promise of better services and increased choice for passengers.

A new Centre for Cities’ report, supported by three bus operators, has called on England’s metro mayors to take control of bus networks to double passenger numbers.

As politicians promise better bus services, this report criticises the current deregulated system, describing them as ‘local private monopolies’ that have failed to deliver on the promise of better services and increased choice for passengers. Instead, prices have risen and the quality of services has fallen relative to car and rail while socially-important routes are often cut to safeguard profits, leaving local authorities to pick up the tab.

The report goes on to set out the economic, social and environmental benefits of moving towards a London-style bus franchising system where the mayor controls routes and fares then pays private operators a flat fee to run the vehicles.

It recommends that all metro mayors should now begin the process of bringing local bus networks under their control. The Government has already given them powers to do this but most have been slow to use them so far. Greater Manchester is currently furthest in the process of moving towards franchising.

National politicians campaigning in the general election are promising better bus services so the next Government should support metro mayors, simplify the franchising process and provide funding for any up-front costs that the process requires.

If the next Government and England’s metro mayors show the political will then franchising urban bus networks numbers could be worth £805 million to the national economy over the next decade,* double passenger numbers, tackle air pollution and reduce congestion.

In London between 1999 and 2009 the number of annual bus journeys on the franchised network increased by 1 billion while in almost every other major city they declined.

Centre for Cities Chief Executive Andrew Carter said:

“Bus deregulation promised to give passengers more choice and lower fares but thirty years on it has failed. At a time when more people should be switching from cars to public transport to tackle congestion and air pollution, bus numbers are decreasing in almost every city.

“To reverse this trend, metro mayors should use the powers that they already possess and franchise their local bus networks. They should also set themselves an ambitious target to double the number of passengers using buses, in the way that London did.”

Abellio London Bus Managing Director Tony Wilson said:

“We supported this report because we wanted to clearly identify the reasons behind bus passenger decline. Buses are an essential resource across England’s cities and we need to do everything possible to make it easy for people to access them. We know franchising gives commuters the public transport system they want – better routes, better pricing and simpler ticketing systems. Given the significant commuter benefits and the role buses need to play to help boost public transport usage, we would urge mayors to consider a bus franchising model to improve their public transport.”


Notes to Editors

*According to government estimates.

This Centre for Cities report was sponsored by bus operator Abellio and supported by, Metroline, and Tower Transit.

About the Centre for Cities

  • Centre for Cities is a research and policy institute, dedicated to improving the economic success of UK cities.
  • We are a charity that works with cities, business and Whitehall to develop and implement policy that supports the performance of urban economies.
  • We do this through impartial research and knowledge exchange.
  • For more information, please visit centreforcities.org/about

About Abellio

  • Abellio London Bus operates bus services across London on behalf of Transport for London, plus rail replacement and event services across the UK. It operates over eight per cent of London’s bus network, running 700 vehicles and employing 2,500 staff across six depots in Central, South and West London.
  • It is part of the Abellio Group, which believes that public transport is a vital part of community life and aims to offer easier journeys, every day, through providing a professional and high-quality service. Abellio London Bus has been recognised for its excellence, winning Best London Depot at the UK Bus Awards in 2018, the Most Innovative Transport Project at the London Transport Awards 2019 and has been selected as a finalist in the Best Use of Technology for the Route One Awards 2019.
  • Abellio UK is a transport operating group with offices in Glasgow and London. It operates the ScotRail, West Midlands Railway, East Midlands Railway and Greater Anglia franchises, and runs the Merseyrail concession in a joint venture with Serco. The driving purpose is delivering easier journeys for customers, every day. Abellio is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Nederlandse Spoorwegen (Dutch Railways).

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