The Government is giving bus operators up to £60m to enable them to cap most single journeys at £2 for the first three months of next year.
According to the DfT, the average single fare for a three-mile journey is over £2.80, meaning that the new fare will save passengers almost 30%.
Bus fares vary across England and between bus operators, and can reach almost £6 for a single journey in rural areas, said DfT. The new cap means passengers in those areas could save more than £60 a month if they took four single trips a week, it estimates.
The DfT predicts that the scheme will take at least two million car journeys off the roads.
Details of the £2 cap follows the DfT’s announcement that it is offering bus operators and councils a further £130m Bus Recovery Grant (BRG).
This means that almost £2bn has been made available to over 160 bus operators during the Covid-19 pandemic, the DfT estimates. It has also pledged to fund improved services, new bus priority measures and new electric or hydrogen buses as part of the national bus strategy Bus Back Better.
During the pandemic the number of people using buses fell significantly, along with other public transport, and DfT figures suggest usage has not returned to pre-pandemic levels.
Operators representing around 90% of the bus sector have expressed support for the £2 fare cap scheme, said the DfT.
Grant Shapps said: “Buses are by far and away the most used form of public transport, so ensuring that almost all bus journeys are no more than £2 will assist passengers over the winter months and provide direct help to thousands of households across the country.
“This £60m boost will mean everyone can affordably get to work, education, the shops and doctor’s appointments.
"We know people will be feeling the pressure of rising costs this winter, and so we have been working hard this summer to provide practical concrete help that will lower daily expenditure."
The cap complements a range of discounts already being offered by bus operators around the country. Single fares that are already lower than £2 will not be affected by the cap.
A flat-rate bus pilot scheme launched in Cornwall in January, which received £23.5m of Government funding, has resulted in a 10% rise in passenger numbers, said the DfT. The ‘Any Ticket Any Bus’ scheme, running over four years, includes a £3 day ticket within towns or a £9 day ticket across Cornwall, which is valid across different bus operators.
Ensuring the public can access affordable bus fares will encourage more people to choose buses for local journeys, which helps to reduce carbon emissions “as the country moves towards net zero targets”, said the DfT.
Dawn Badminton-Capps, director for England for charity Bus Users, said the cap will bring “welcome, short-term relief to the millions of people who rely on buses to access education, employment and health services”.
Paul Tuohy, chief executive of Campaign for Better Transport, said: “This will be very welcome news for the millions of people who rely on the bus to get to work, to the shops, to medical appointments, and to connect with friends and family. It will also encourage more people to find their nearest bus stop and give the bus a try.
“Buses have great potential to cut traffic and carbon emissions, to connect communities and ease loneliness. This £2 fare cap - which we have called for - will help set buses on the road to a bright future.”
Alison Edwards, policy director at the Confederation of Passenger Transport: “Bus fare caps at £2 are an eye-catching initiative which could help attract new passengers on to the bus, particularly at a time when networks are adapting to new travel patterns, and both customers and operators are facing cost of living and business cost challenges.
“We look forward to understanding in detail how the proposed fare cap will work in practice to ensure it supports the long-term sustainability of bus networks, which are vital in connecting communities with jobs, education and skills, as well as friends, family, and essential public services.”
But Chris Cheek, author and consultant/analyst on UK ground passenger transport, took a different view. He told LTT: “This is a short-term, headline-grabbing attempt so typical of this government. It will help comparatively few existing passengers whilst failing to address the fundamental needs of the industry. The money would be much better spent on making sure that there are bus services for people to ride on.”
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