As bus journeys continue to fall across the North-East, Nick Gullon finds out the problems facing operators and how steps are being taken to encourage people to leave their cars at home.

IT was the middle of the 20th century, with the post-war boom in full swing, when ownership of the private car became a common sight across much of Britain. The growth of this independent and convenient mode of transport, which transformed the lives of many up and down the country, coincided with the demise of another.

“The big decline in the bus market came between the 1950s and 1980s,” says Graham Vidler, chief executive of The Confederation of Passenger Transport UK (CPT), which is recognised by the Government as the voice of the bus and coach industry.

“That was when ordinary people across the country started buying the private car, and bus journeys fell from 13 billion a year to about five billion a year.”

CPT is urging the Government to take steps to help get one billion more bus journeys by 2030 to help fight climate change and improve air quality. It comes after research found the North-East saw one of the biggest drops in passenger numbers over the last decade compared with anywhere else in the country.

“There are about 50 bus journeys per person per year. One in four people get the bus once a week. Most of us get it over the course of the year," says Graham.

“Two-and-a-half million of us go to work by bus. More than one million children use the bus to get to school and there are around one-and-a-half million shopping journeys.

“That creates a huge amount of value for town centres – the industry in itself is a great generator of employment, and in many local areas, the local bus company is the biggest private sector employer.

“Buses account for more journeys than all other forms of public transport combined, and that, as someone who is new to the industry, really surprised me, because when you look at the amount of air time that rail, in particular, gets, it’s quite remarkable to think bus is so much bigger."

CPT is calling on the Government to make all new buses ultra-low or zero emission from 2025, reduce travel costs for job seekers and apprentices, and for the introduction of price caps for daily and weekly ticketing in urban areas, sustainable transport for rural areas and journey time targets for transport authorities to speed up services.

“We think passenger numbers can come up," says Graham. "It is essential, if the UK is to meet its target on emissions, people are going to have to be encouraged to use the bus sometimes rather than the car.

“We think over the course of the next 20 years, that number will start moving sustainably up again, because if it doesn’t, we’re going to be left behind on some of the commitments we’ve already made on emissions.”

CPT say by getting more people to choose the bus, cars can be taken off the roads, reducing congestion and carbon dioxide emissions, and they are confident the situation in the region can be “turned around”.

“It is about some journeys, nobody here in the bus industry is suggesting people should get rid of their cars.

“We’re being realistic and saying look there are many journeys that could be switched to the bus. We know there are some journeys that can’t be done on public transport, and there are some needs where people have to have a car. Commuting into city and town centres is a great example, and shopping at the Metro Centre. The bus network is gravitated around where the most common journeys are.

“It’s everywhere where there is congestion and long queues of traffic. It shows a lot of people are trying to get there and when that happens, that’s where there is a good place for the bus.

“We also must not lose track of the time and cost of parking – it might be quicker to get to the outskirts of the centre because we are not stopping to pick people up, but by the time people have found the car park, found a space, paid, we’ve caught you up, dropped everyone off and they are at the destination.”

Last week, CPT published its Moving Forward Together strategy in an attempt to persuade the Government to create a National Bus Strategy.

Buses Minister, Baroness Vere said: “Buses link people with work, school, friends and family and are vital to helping drive down emissions by providing a greener travel option.

“This CPT strategy emphasises the importance of the bus industry and I look forward to working with them.”