Delay review of London bus demand until the autumn to avoid premature cuts says watchdog

London TravelWatch has called for the Government to delay its review of London bus demand scheduled for July until the autumn to coincide with more people returning to the office and avoid premature service cuts based on unrealistic usage figures.

The watchdog has sent a briefing to all London Assembly Members (AMs) and London MPs asking them to support its calls to delay the review. Bus users themselves are also encouraged to contact their local Assembly Member or MP to show their support.

Emma Gibson, Director of London TravelWatch said: “We’re really concerned that any review into demand for the bus before most people have returned to work will not give an accurate picture of future bus demand, and may lead to the premature cutting of services. This could lead to the bus becoming less attractive to use, with crowding and an inability to socially distance and a subsequent drop in fares revenue. It would also undermine efforts to avoid a car-led recovery from the pandemic; and constrain London’s social and economic recovery.”

She added: ‘Similar reviews of demand for the train and Tube review are due to happen in September, so it would make sense to delay the bus review until the autumn too. This would also mean that more people will have had both their vaccinations** and take into account the fact that travel demand, particularly among commuters tends to be lowest in the summer months, with more people on holiday and the schools breaking up towards the end of July.”

Rt. Hon. Norman Baker from Campaign For Better Transport backed up the organisation’s calls: “As we emerge from the pandemic, we need to build back greener, as the Government itself says. That means getting more people out of their cars and onto public transport. Given that, a review of bus services that is both timed to occur before passenger numbers have fully recovered and which may well end up recommending cuts is both premature and unwelcome.”

Adam Tyndall, Programme Director for Transport at London First said “It is crucial that the Government waits to review service levels for buses until the country is fully unlocked, not in the middle of continued uncertainty. Jumping to conclusions based on rapidly changing data risks cutting service levels at a time when demand has not yet recovered, triggering a cycle of decline.  A well-serviced bus network will help the capital avoid a car-led recovery and will ensure sustainable transport options are there for Londoners as they create new habits.”

Demand for the bus in London has outstripped that of the train and Tube during the pandemic, even during lockdowns, which demonstrates its importance as a key mode for essential journeys. With current bus ridership at just over 60% of pre-Covid levels, demand continues to steadily increase and is likely to continue to do so over the summer.

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