Public transport operator Stagecoach has called on the government to introduce tax incentives and cheaper fares to encourage people to use public transport.
Ahead of this week’s spending review, the company has set out a six-point plan which it hopes will help towards increasing passenger numbers and reducing carbon at the same time.
Its proposals include tax incentives, discounted fares, a national bus marketing campaign which matches the advertising push to attract consumers back to trains, a reform of motoring tax and a clear government roadmap for investment which would support decarbonisation of the bus sector and deliver 4,000 new promised electric buses in England.
According to Stagecoach, car use surged to 111% of pre-pandemic levels but bus journeys are only happening 70% as often as they were before Covid came along even though 90% of bus routes and networks are running.
The Stagecoach plan urges the government to consider wider reform of motoring taxation to encourage a shift to more sustainable bus travel, with the decarbonisation of road transport expected to have a significant impact on future tax receipts from fuel duty. Moving to a pay-per-mile form of taxation for private cars, with appropriate mitigations, would increase awareness of the true cost of motoring and support a shift to available public transport or active travel alternatives, it said.
Pre-Covid, bus passengers were responsible for around a third of all spending in towns and city centres. Journeys by concessionary passengers, including senior citizens, have lagged further behind, raising concerns over social isolation among vulnerable groups, said the company.
Stagecoach chief executive Martin Griffiths said: “Bus networks are the arteries behind the social and economic heartbeat of Britain’s towns and cities. They are also central to delivering on the country’s net zero ambitions and creating healthier, more connected communities.
“Government messaging during 18-months of the pandemic has negatively impacted public perceptions of public transport and is holding back Britain’s buses. We need urgent government action and innovative policies to support the efforts of operators to re-boot bus use and unlock their power to kick-start the country’s recovery from the pandemic.”
Mr Griffiths added: “Governments of all colours have for too long shied away from tackling the critical issue of growing and unsustainable car use. Current taxation policy is out of step with the strategy to deliver net zero.
“It has effectively made motoring cheaper, while the road congestion it causes has increased air pollution, accelerated the climate emergency and damaged public transport networks by making services more costly and less reliable.
“With the shift to electric vehicles, the country is also facing a significant black hole in public finances from declining fuel tax revenues. A new pay-per-mile regime for private cars, with measures to protect less well-connected rural areas and combined with other incentives, would help drive a return to public transport and more sustainable communities.”