Go-Ahead’s Martin Dean tells parliamentarians that £260m a year to keep networks at pre-pandemic levels is ‘barely enough to build a mile of HS2’
Bus services need continued post-Covid support and in terms of the Department for Transport’s £3bn annual budget the amount of money required to maintain a comprehensive network is “tiny”.
That was the message to parliamentarians from Martin Dean, managing director of Go-Ahead Group’s regional bus business, who also pointed out that the £260m a year the bus industry needs to keep networks at pre-pandemic levels is “barely enough to build a mile of HS2”.
Writing in The House magazine earlier this month, prior to the government’s announcement of a £500m two-year funding settlement for buses in England, Dean welcomed the enhanced interest in buses among policy-makers. “A politician on a bus used to be as rare as a four leaf clover,” he observed. “But that’s changing. These days, most MPs are eager to put on a hi-vis vest for a tour around a bus depot, and few can resist a photo opp behind the wheel of a double-decker.”
A colleague of mine met an influential parliamentarian on transport recently expecting to talk trains – only to be told ‘we don’t want to talk about trains – our priority is buses’
He continued: “A colleague of mine met an influential parliamentarian on transport recently expecting to talk trains – only to be told ‘we don’t want to talk about trains – our priority is buses’. So it’s a puzzle, amid all this goodwill, that our industry is at the brink of a financial precipice.”
In the medium term, Go-Ahead sees a path to industry growth. “Car ownership is falling among younger people, and environmental awareness – of the benefits of public transport – is on the up,” he said. However, he called for a long term funding deal of around £260m a year to support the bus industry in England, arguing that “the private sector brings a great deal to buses in marketing, innovation and entrepreneurship … but the market cannot conquer all”.
“Without long-term funding, as many as 15% of bus routes nationwide could be cut,” Dean warned. “This is not a party political issue – it would be a crying shame in communities of all political hue. It’s time to look beyond public, private, franchised and commercial models and simply do what’s right to protect our local bus services.”
This story appears in the latest issue of Passenger Transport.
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