Agenda item


Purpose of report:


To inform the committee of the council’s obligations in respect of the new National Bus Strategy, ‘Bus Back Better’, and to seek its views on the Council’s proposed approach.



Matt Furniss, Cabinet Member for Transport and Infrastructure

Katie Stewart, Executive Director – Environment, Transport and Infrastructure

Lucy Monie, Director – Highways and Transport

Laurie James, Bus Service Planning Team Manager


Key points raised during the discussion:

  1. Officers introduced the item and outlined the key aspects of the report.


  1. The Committee was informed of the Council’s obligations in respect of the new National Bus Strategy, ‘Bus Back Better’. A new national bus strategy, ‘Bus Back Better’, was published by government earlier in 2021.
  2. In summary, Bus Back Better required a local authority to consider its role in encouraging more people to travel by bus post-COVID-19 and set out aspirations for bus services that were more frequent, more reliable, easier to understand and use, better-co-ordinated, with understandable fare structures and with high quality information for passengers.


  1. To achieve the desired aims of the strategy and to be eligible to access further government Covid-19 support funding for bus services and a share of other new funding from a £3bn national fund. Local Transport Authorities must agree to pursue either bus franchising or to develop an Enhanced Partnership with all local bus operators in their administrative area.


  1. The Council issued a formal Notice of Intent to the Department for Transport on 29 June 2021, which stated that it would introduce an Enhanced Partnership with bus operators, in accordance with section 138F of the Transport Act 2000.


  1. To address carbon emission levels and to mitigate the national decline in bus patronage, which had been accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic, central government recognised that action was required. It also acknowledges that of all public transport modes, buses were the most adaptable and change could take place relatively quickly.


  1. In responding to Bus Back Better, there was a challenging requirement for Surrey County Council to create a Bus Service Improvement Plan (BSIP) by 31 October 2021.


  1. A Local Transport Authority’s BSIP needed to contain a range of aspirations and ambitions to make the bus travel option more attractive, including various initiatives. The BSIP needed to be developed in collaboration with bus operators, community transport providers, adjoining Local Transport Authorities and other stakeholders, and it would be guided by issues in connection with bus services that had been identified by residents’ feedback. A BSIP would set out the local measures proposed for achieving the objectives of the national strategy and for encouraging greater bus use as part of the county’s ‘building back better’ more sustainably.
  2. The new National Bus Strategy and the proposed BSIP for Surrey needed to be aligned with several key themes from the new draft Surrey Transport Plan, in particular the proposed hierarchy of modes and the ambition to shift journeys from the private car to other more sustainable modes. Moreover, central to the Surrey County Council’s response to Bus Back Better would be to highlight and cross-reference the strong linkages to the aims and ambitions of the Council’s Greener Futures programme of work and the delivery of the Council’s 2030 Community Vision.


  1. The questions posed by the Committee, together with the report, provided a sound insight into how the Council would be responding strongly, positively and proactively to the challenge set by the Government in the Bus Back Better. Previous joint working with bus operators had seen large and joint investment in many parts of the county, with improvement programmes already being delivered, for example, in Camberley, Guildford and Woking. Other improvements were planned in Redhill, Reigate and the A23 corridor, building upon previous partnership work in these areas. This investment had seen significant improvements in passenger facilities, real time bus information, bus priority measures, joint ticketing schemes and zero emission buses, alongside enhancements to service frequencies and the introduction of some new services.


  1. In Members’ questions, the spotlight was put on the need for: discounted fares for family and young people; understanding and addressing the impact of school transport/buses in the strategy; converting all existing Surrey County Council buses to electric; implementing appropriate social value provisions; realistic yet challenging timescale and targets to increase bus passengers in both the short and long terms; improvements to bus shelters; introducing a single joined up bus fare across Surrey like the Oyster model in London; and contingency planning if no meaningful funding was forthcoming from the Government.



Communities, Environment and Highways Select Committee support the County Council’s intention to produce a Bus Service Improvement Plan and the creation of an Enhanced Partnership Scheme, both of which are a National Bus Strategy requirement and commends the extensive range of ambitious initiatives contained in the Report, while also recommending that:

  1. Serious consideration be given to reducing bus fares (at least on some routes to begin with) as stipulated in the Government’s Policy document and in order to make bus travel for Surrey residents a more viable and better value option compared to driving a car.
  2. Family discount and other concessions (U18s, U16s, etc.) bus fares be considered as part of the Bus Service Improvement Plan (BSIP).
  3. Any app for passengers includes information on the location of the expected service and the next available bus on the map.
  4. The scope, terms of reference etc. for the Partnership Governance Board and the Stakeholder Reference Group are rigorously defined and delineated to help ensure the credibility and effectiveness of the Enhanced Partnership.
  5. Actively pursue the process, wherever possible, to make all Surrey buses to run on non-fossil fuel.
  6. Better communication, awareness and publicity campaign as part of the wider Greener Future piece.

Supporting documents: