DFT, Under The Spotlight….

I was deeply indebted to my good chums at Coach and Bus Weekly who included a rather excellent article where the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Transport Minister Nusrat Ghani, MP, along with her mate Catrina Henderson, Head of Buses and Taxis at the Department of Transport, were scrutinised by members of the Transport Select Committee as part of a long overdue investigation into the health of the bus industry. This was one of the first times to by knowledge that the DFT had been quizzed on its bus policies, in relation to a broad range of very relevant issues including guidance, funding and concessionaire fares, among other vital issues.

To be fair I have been highly impressed at Nusrat since she took office, and most recently her positive speech at the UK Bus summit very recently held in London. It is refreshing to find someone who seems to display a genuine interest in the bus industry as well as demonstrate a common sense partnership with key players to improve the lot of the buses. Not since Norman Baker have I observed someone with this enthusiasm represent the Secretary of States office. The committee covered a lot of ground so ensure brevity I will focus on a the biggest single issue in my view, namely the need for a national bus policy.

This has been the bus elephant in the corner of the room, since before I joined the Industry back in 1822. Quite simply why, oh why is there no DFT policy for buses, all other modes of transport have them, roads, rail, cycling, aviation, etc, they have been established since who knows when. But, when it comes to the biggest supplier of public transport, there is diddly squat, I honestly cannot truly understand why this is the case but it is. To be fair to Nusrat she replied that a national policy was required but it depended on timing and vision, she went onto say that it would involve support from stakeholders and local authorities. To be honest I agree and I am truly hopeful that the select committee when it eventually draws its conclusions will stress that this national policy is jointly devised with the Industry and implemented.

Sticking with the issue of a national bus policy, it strikes me that today more than ever, the stars are correctly aligning to make this dream a reality. The recent restructuring of the Confederation of Passenger Transport, coupled with the recent emergence of the bus policies group at the Charted Institute of Logistics and Transport, and the realisation most importantly of the big five groups that things need to change, all of which bodes well. Nothing wrong with any of that as far as I am concerned, history shows that change is a necessary part of evolution and growth, and lets face it the bus industry certainly needs that.

When you consider the recent savage cuts in Local Authority funding for bus services, the worrying decline in bus passengers and scheduled mileage especially in the last five years, but realistically since the 1990’s until today. Coupled with todays hot topics of ever increasing congestion, and the implementation of Quality Air Zones, there are seismic consequences of these very real and far reaching impacts. From the outside looking in, it strikes me that we are at a pivotal point in the future of the UK Bus industry. However I do take comfort that the right people with the right motives are in key positions to make the right decisions at the right times. I hope that they do, as I fear that if they do not then the Bus industry may find itself dying from a thousand cuts, a prospect that we simply cannot allow to happen.

Written by Austin Birks

February 22, 2019

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