It is time, our latest report says, for the Interurban to ‘come in from the cold’. While bus services may have been cut back across rural areas in recent years, Interurban buses – linking towns together – have prospered. Run on a commercial basis, offering full accessibility for wheelchair users, and free wi-fi, they are a much under-rated part of the national public transport system.
“Interurban buses have not just survived, but are offering higher quality standards, with hourly frequencies or better”, says Greengauge 21 Director Jim Steer. The problem is they are little known outside the areas they serve. And this, he says, needs to be put right so that they can make a full contribution to connecting places that have no train service.
“When railway branch-lines closed in the 1960s, replacement bus services were designed to meet cases of local hardship, not offer a strategic alternative. But as our case studies in this report show, in recent years, the situation has changed. Today, interurban bus offers a quality of service comparable to secondary rail lines”, adds Jim Steer.
Key recommendations in the report centre on improving information – a challenge that may be about to get easier given new obligations under the 2017 Bus Services Act. Often filling gaps in the national rail network, interurban buses provide connectivity that could be used to promote local communities and economic development. But just getting basic information on services can be hard.
Co-author Peter White, an Emeritus Professor at the University of Westminster, says “the case studies indicate a markedly different pattern to trends shown in published aggregate statistics, which group together many different service types. Interurban travel differs from more localised movement in that individual passengers may travel less often, but total demand can grow as the need to travel from local market towns to regional centres increases. In general, services operate commercially. Even across rural Wales, public support per passenger trip is modest.”
“Where interurban bus routes meet the rail network, much more needs to be done to provide easy to use passenger interchanges,” says Jim Steer, and these local hubs can form the nucleus of business and service clusters.
The report sets out a ten-point plan to bring the Interurban Bus into a role as part of a joined-up national public transport network. “It is not necessary to think in terms of franchising or additional regulation. What’s needed is a commitment to service retention, so that journeys can be planned ahead with confidence and people can make decisions about where they live or work, just as they can if they have a train service to call upon”, adds Jim Steer. The report proposes a centralised ‘insurance’ fund for local authorities to intercede in the case of business failure or short-notice service withdrawal.
Co-author Dylan Luke says ““Recent research shows a sharp drop-off in the use and ownership of cars amongst younger age groups. Travelling on a Wi-Fi-equipped modern Interurban Bus is an alternative with growing appeal. But better web-based journey planners are needed that provide links for ticket purchase – which, he adds, ‘of course’ should provide for through bus-rail journeys”.
You can access the report here: Interurban bus – time to raise the profile.