Back to top

Buses are a lifeline for millions of people in our cities and city regions. Before Covid-19, buses transported more people than any other form of public transport and when our cities come back to life, buses will once again be the main mode of transport for many of our citizens.
Last year in England, bus passengers took three times as many journeys as railway users. And, according to public transport watchdog Transport Focus, more than half of passengers say that getting a bus is the only real means of transport available to them.
But the buses they get are often ageing, environmentally damaging and expensive to use. Indeed, bus journeys in our biggest cities outside of London often cost more per mile than bus journeys in London where the network is controlled by the elected Mayor not the private sector.
In politics, when it comes to Government support for big infrastructure projects, some things fall into the ‘sexy’ category: aircraft carriers, high speed rail, new airport runways. But we must not forget the need to get young people to college, key workers to work and shoppers to the high street, particularly as we transition from lockdown. That is why now is the time to get serious about the country’s bus infrastructure – from policy, to pricing, to the quality of service. We need root-and-branch reform. 
Buses are an everyday part of life for millions of people, but central Government has never had a proper strategy for making life better for bus passengers outside of London. 
Buses are the arteries of the local economies on which the Government is basing its levelling up agenda. Ensuring that opportunity is open to all - irrespective of where you’re from – means providing links between people and places. And it is on this basis that the Core Cities want to put political allegiances aside to capitalise on the Government’s stated intention of a National Bus Strategy for England.
Because we know that our cities – connected to the towns and villages surrounding us – are the engine rooms for future prosperity. 
Although bus usage is higher than other forms of public transport, the number of local bus journeys has declined in many of our cities. If bus use fails to recover after this crisis and buck this downward trend, then our towns and cities will be less green, less well connected and less prosperous as a result. 
Even with Covid restrictions in place, encouraging more people to get the bus removes dozens of cars from the road. A National Bus Strategy could help accelerate our country’s carbon emission reductions, improving air quality and reducing the health problems associated with highly-polluting vehicles. It could also boost productivity by reducing the congestion and provide access to education for people wanting to retrain.
Connecting people in villages and towns to cities is one way the country can unleash its potential. That can start with buses. As the leader of Newcastle City Council, I invite the Prime Minister - a self-confessed bus fan - to Tyne and Wear to take a ride on the Number 1 bus with me.
There he can hear directly from citizens about the need for a revolution in our bus system – one that addresses the discrepancies of cost for using a bus in our Core Cities compared to London and one that allows us to connect people with opportunities to work, study and play.
Cllr Nick Forbes is the leader of Newcastle City Council and Cabinet Transport Spokesperson for Core Cities UK