'Urgent Action Needed' as Bus Passenger Numbers Tumble

Decline in average speeds to below 9mph seen as major reason for decline

Buses getting caught in traffic
Buses getting caught in traffic. Picture: Robin Stott

London’s travel watchdog has called for urgent action as bus passenger numbers “haemorrhage” in the city.

Average bus speeds have now fallen below nine miles per hour for the first time, and London Travelwatch says this is a “major factor” in declining use.

But falling average speed does not mean buses should drive faster, which could be unsafe – rather it reflects how congestion on city streets is holding up services.

The number of bus journeys in the capital has been falling since 2013/14 from a peak of 2.4 billion, according to Department for Transport data.

There were 2.2 billion bus journeys in 2018/19 – down 200 million in five years.

Travelwatch said Transport for London (TfL) should create more bus and bike only streets, and extend Congestion Charge hours to speed up services.

And it called on the transport network to extend bus lane hours, and review parking on bus routes.

The watchdog said TfL should consider a road user charge as a “medium term” solution.

This could mean all car owners would pay per mile when driving in the capital, pushing people towards public transport.

London TravelWatch chairman Arthur Leathley said: “More than 40 million people a week rely on London’s bus services and many people have no alternative transport.

“Since 2014 there have been four million fewer passengers using the bus every week, despite many improvements.

“The slower services are becoming a real deterrent and if action is not taken to address this, we will continue to see passenger numbers haemorrhage.”

TfL say bus use has fallen faster in the rest of the UK than in London.

The transport network’s bus service director, Claire Mann, acknowledged that bus speeds affect service demand.

She said: “I am pleased to say that bus reliability and customer satisfaction are at historically high levels.

“We are tackling congestion by reducing the time taken to clear up unplanned incidents on the roads and better coordinating utilities and roadworks.

“The Mayor’s fares freeze and the introduction of the Bus Hopper fare – which has been used for over 420 million journeys since its launch – are also helping to tackle congestion by getting more Londoners out of their cars and onto public transport.”

Jessie Matthewson - Local Democracy Reporter

January 16, 2020