Up to speed
Copying the capital is even harder than it looks
FEW Britons feel passionate about buses. Unlike the railways, they spur few protests or angry letters in local newspapers. On August 26th IPPR, a left-leaning think-tank influential in Labour circles, attempted to change this. Buses “seem to be the forgotten aspect of public transport”, the authors of a new report sighed. But their proposed prescription is almost as doddery as an old Routemaster.
In London, bus use is soaring. Some 7m journeys are made there each day, on a bus network that is highly regulated by Transport for London (TfL), a body that oversees public transport in the city, as well as many roads. But outside the capital the deregulated bus network can be patchy, with multiple ticketing systems and buses prone to get stuck in traffic, and use is falling.
The sharp contrast between London and the rest suggests to IPPR that large transport bodies similar to TfL ought to be set up, particularly in big metropolises. This would allow both better co-ordination and more effective lobbying of the Treasury. Since TfL was created in 2000 London’s bus network has been pumped with cash. Although it has fallen back slightly, net public support to London’s buses, at 809m in 2012-13, is still far higher than the amount doled out to other big cities.
伦敦及其他地区的强烈对比使得IPPR认为类似于 TfL 的大型交通组织应当建立起来，特别是在大都市。这有利于更好地协调合作以及更为有效地游说财政部以获得资金支持。自从2000年以来TfL 建立，伦敦的公交网络来钱如井喷，虽然现在有些许回落，但公共交通网络在2012~2013年间给伦敦公交共资助了八千九百万英镑，远高于给予其他大城市的资金拨款。
The bigger-body plan, though, is likely to remain a theory. Even in Manchester, the most go-ahead big city outside London, a combined authority representing local governments is only just getting limited powers over transport. London is exceedingly unusual and hard to copy. It has a high-profile elected mayor, a large congestion-charging zone and a young, fast-growing population that shuns cars. Bus use is rising even though they are no longer particularly cheap. Fares are now, by one measure, some of the highest in Britain. Since 2005 they have increased by 23%, only slightly less than in other metropolitan areas.
Buses are doing well in a few other spots, too. As the report notes, they are popular in Oxford and Brighton, congested cities with high parking fees. In East Kent 29m passenger trips were made on buses run by Stagecoach, Britain’s biggest bus operator, in 2011, up from 14m in 2003. Punctuality is improving in many areas. Routes have been cut back outside London—but many of them were publicly subsidised ones squeezed by austerity.
Rather than try and replicate TfL, local authorities might be encouraged to impose stricter parking regulations and work harder with bus companies to improve service. Concessionary fares, overseen by individual councils, could be simplified and targeted at the poor far more efficiently. But in some areas it would be wise to accept that bus use will just continue to decline, says David Leeder, a bus expert. In regions such as north-east England, where unemployment is the highest in the country, car ownership has traditionally been low. But it is starting to catch up as the economy recovers. That is more bad news for buses.