As Britain marks the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, Stagecoach Bluebird Managing Director, Peter Knight, looks at the continuing importance of buses to thriving communities.
As the country celebrates the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, it’s a time when all of us can reflect on the importance of community to our country. But what many of us take for granted is that the humble bus is in so many ways the glue that holds those communities together.
From the post-war era of rebuilding and renewal to the more recent steps in the recovery from the pandemic, buses have been pivotal to our country over the past 70 years: connecting people with jobs, education and skills, retail and leisure. And, most importantly, bringing friends and family together.
Stagecoach has a strong heritage of more than four decades, proud to serve Britain as the country’s biggest bus and coach operator. But nearly three decades before that, as Queen Elizabeth II took the throne in 1952 immediately after the death of her father, King George VI, the country’s buses were central to how Britain lived.
Before the rise of the car, the bus was the country’s number one choice of transport, significantly more used than trams and light rail systems. It was a golden age of bus travel, with 13.2million journeys a year at its peak in 1955.
The expansion of cars dramatically reduced the number of bus journeys in the following three decades. But the years since then have seen major progress in the quality of bus travel, huge investment in new technology, as well as innovation and new types of services.
The 1990s saw the introduction of park and ride systems to the UK’s transport landscape. The system allowed people access high frequency routes into city centres for work and other purposes, avoiding premium parking fees, and helping reduce city centre congestion which costs the country billions of pounds a year in reduced productivity.
New technology has also made journeys easier for our customers, and we’ve invested £1billion in the past decade alone in state-of-the-art greener vehicles to help protect our environment and local air quality. As the country’s trailblazer public transport start-up in 1980, we’re proud to have been at the forefront of many cutting-edge developments.
Paying cash to a ‘clippy’ was the only way to get a bus ticket in the 1950s, but in 2022 passengers can use their contactless bank card or smartphone to pay for their travel – as well as securing it in advance.
Our Stagecoach app provides live running information on the progress of our services, so customers don’t need to worry about checking a timetable at a bus stop. And we’re investing in software that uses data and artificial intelligence to deliver better timetables, more effectively manage our workforce and improve the way we maintain our fleet.
Looking ahead there is a bright and strong future for the bus building on the success of the past 70 years. Buses are critical to helping economic recovery following the pandemic, levelling up our communities, and delivering net zero. I'm confident that we will see a new golden age of bus travel with buses being even more relevant and important in 2050 than they were in 1950.
Across the country, we are proud to be working with the government on exciting plans to help the country get out of their cars and back on board the nation's buses.
A package of initiatives are helping to deliver lower fares, faster and more reliable journeys, better connections, and improved customer information. To maximise the potential of the country’s bus networks, it’s critical that all regions – urban and rural – benefit from government investment.
We also need incentives to help people make more sustainable transport choices. Tax breaks through salary sacrifice schemes for people who buy bus season tickets could help address the cost-of-living crisis. Our environment could also benefit from a system of mobility credits to encourage people to give up older polluting cars and reward them with a credit to spend on greener travel options.
The prize of making even small changes is huge, but simply replacing petrol or diesel car trips with electric car trips won’t be enough to deliver the country’s net zero targets or be enough to stop damaging climate change.
We need real change. If everyone switched just one car journey a month to bus, there would be a billion fewer car journeys and a saving of two million tonnes of carbon dioxide. As we all come together to take part in the Platinum Jubilee celebrations across the nation and the wider Commonwealth, we should take the opportunity of this milestone to pledge to make changes in how we travel for the benefit of our own and future generations.