City regions see biggest fall in English bus patronage

The biggest decline in bus passenger numbers in England over the past six years was in the six metropolitan areas, while the least was in London.

The figures are contained in a new report that the KPMG consultancy has prepared for the Confederation of Passenger Transport, analysing Department for Transport statistics that show a 202million, or 4.4% decline in bus use across England between 2011/12 and 2016/17.

KPMG attributes around half of the decline to what it describes as ‘changing customer needs’ – including changes in population, car ownership, employment and alternatives to travelling, such as online purchases. It says the remainder ‘can be explained by increases in bus fares and reduction in service quality (bus speeds and service miles run)’.

It says 140million passengers were lost because of increasing car use, compensated by 180million extra journeys from a larger population. In addition, 163million were lost because of longer journey times, 78million for fares increases, 54million to online activity, 25million to light rail and 19million to taxis. Against that, 26million were attracted by better quality services.

Overall, 5% fewer miles were run, although staff numbers have only reduced by 2%. The greatest reduction was in metropolitan areas; in London, mileage increased by 0.9%, but is now being reversed.

The figures hide other regional differences, with the south-east and south-west England gaining passengers; Yorkshire and the northeast lost proportionately the most. Increasing journey times have hit metropolitan areas hardest, while increasing fares are of most impact in the shires.

The cost of running a car in 2016/17 was broadly the same as five years earlier, and the report observes that car ownership grew even in London, though at a lesser rate than elsewhere. It also notes that Bus Service Operators Grant has fallen by 27% over five years, though only by 2% in London.