National Bus Strategy: England

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:15 pm on 15th March 2021.

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Photo of Grant Shapps Grant Shapps The Secretary of State for Transport 5:15 pm, 15th March 2021

Predictably, the hon. Gentleman is not entirely satisfied. He said that the investment should have been bigger and that we should have been investing more in zero carbon, and he criticised many other aspects of the strategy. In fact, we did not even need to wait for the bus strategy, because he issued his press release to tell us all this ahead of time—before the strategy was even out and before he could possibly have known what was in it. I hope that he has now had the opportunity to read it. If he has, he will have seen that it is an extremely ambitious plan. It is the most ambitious plan to change our buses from any Government right the way back to the 1980s.

It is not as if the 1980s were the start of the decline; I think I am right in saying that we saw a decline in bus ridership from the ’60s onwards, from about 15.5 billion down to 5.5 billion. We know that people have switched to cars in that period of time, which is why this bus strategy is so ambitious and is trying to hold no punches in saying, “We need to realign the way we operate. We need to ensure that buses are more convenient and therefore more reliable. When they are, people are much more likely to take them.” As the hon. Gentleman rightly said, that is a formula that has operated very well in London under successive Mayors—although, I must say, it was expanded under the previous one—and has ensured that buses are clean and reliable, and that people do not even need a timetable. He asked about the reliability and regularity of services; that is what we want to get to. We also would not be putting £3 billion in if we did not expect, as the bus strategy says, to make buses more affordable. It is central to our vision that they are not just practical, but the affordable means of transport.

I hear what the hon. Gentleman said about greening up the bus network. I am as enthusiastic as him; he knows that I am—I drive an electric car and I want to see our transport system decarbonised. He mentioned that we announced a year ago our ambition to have 4,000 electric buses. He is absolutely right that that is what we wrote in our manifesto. As he would expect, we are delivering on that. The £120 million mentioned in the bus strategy today will go towards the first 800 of those buses. That comes on top of money that has already been invested by the industry in creating more electric buses. We are starting to see those buses on the road, including—I think I am right in saying—a couple of thousand in London, as well as elsewhere in the country. It is starting to happen and we are going to ensure that we meet our manifesto commitment of delivering 4,000 by the end of this Parliament.

Finally, the hon. Gentleman mentioned municipal bus services. I am not living in some world where I think there is only one way to do this. That is why we are talking about bus franchising and enhanced partnerships. He will be interested to know that the service in my area, though not a municipal bus operation, is actually run by the local university, the University of Hertfordshire, which owns a bus company called Uno. That is the kind of creative idea that we want to see developed by the national bus strategy. The hon. Gentleman’s local authority, every other local authority and all Members in this House will have the opportunity to ensure that their local area is able to deliver against the bus strategy to improve services for everybody in a way of which he would approve.