The UK Bus industry is ever-evolving and 2023 has been a year of marked change. This year has witnessed the sector navigating challenges, such as the lingering impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and driver shortages, to the ever-present call for greener and more efficient modes of transport. As we approach 2024, we believe the central themes guiding the upcoming year and beyond will revolve around collaboration and adaptability.
To franchise, or not to franchise?
Franchising has undeniably taken centre stage in the narrative of 2023. Introduced in Manchester for the first time since deregulation, this transformative trend looks set to shape the years ahead with Liverpool City Region and West Yorkshire Combined Authority (WYCA), amongst others, planning to follow suit. With a growing number of councils bracing for upcoming elections, the widespread adoption of the franchise model seems increasingly inevitable. Yet, as this momentum builds, it is important to consider alternative approaches. By leveraging best practices and enhancing the established systems and processes within operators’ existing networks, there’s an opportunity to transition toward a more collaborative future involving Local Transport Authorities (LTAs) and operators.
Against this backdrop and with funding potentially tightening in 2024, bus operators and LTAs must adopt a prudent approach, carefully managing financial resources to ensure operation of the most efficient services possible. The notable upswing in patronage observed this year underscores the need for a sustained and proficient operation. Collaborative efforts between bus operators and LTAs will play a pivotal role, with the latest technology helping to empower LTAs and operators with the intelligence and insights required to fulfil their commitments and uphold network responsibilities effectively.
Incentivised travel and BSOG reform
The introduction of the £2 bus fare cap in England, not only incentivised bus travel but made it affordable for millions of passengers struggling with the cost-of-living crisis. Introduced as a £2 flat rate fare outside of London until November 2024, the measure has helped to increase patronage post-Covid. However, unless a transitional arrangement is introduced at the end of the current initiative, a potential cliff-edge scenario could see fares increase substantially at the end of 2024, hitting millions of passengers in the pocket and reducing patronage.
The BSOG funding process is set to be reformed, with the Department of Transport and industry bodies set to shape the future of the scheme with a focus on incentivising zero emission vehicles and additional funding for rural services. Depending on the approach, and considering work carried out by EPM in collaboration with Confederation of Passenger Transport (CPT), changes to the current funding mechanism could have significant winners and losers. With a general election next year it is likely that any reform measures decided on in 2024 will not be implemented until Spring of the following year.
Flexible timetables to meet changing work patterns
Travel patterns have changed, characterised by an uptake in remote work and an increase in leisure travel. Therefore, there is a greater need for LTAs and bus operators to understand these changing behaviours. Timetables need to be fluid and flexibly planned to capitalise on emerging trends and to effectively meet the fluctuating demand. This ensures that the changing needs of customers are not only understood but also met.
This year has seen a shortage of drivers continue to blight the industry. The CPT has identified that almost 1 in 10 bus driver positions are vacant in the UK which has led to a drop in the number of deliverable services. With attributing factors such as long hours and exhausting shift patterns, there is a need for operators to build stronger relationships with their drivers to address this ongoing challenge. Establishing open communication is vital, and leveraging data becomes paramount in understanding and contextualising driver performance. Additionally, adopting driver-centric technologies can prove instrumental in enhancing driver relations by empowering them to access their schedules remotely and easily request time off or overtime.
Innovation to attract more passengers
The key challenge for bus operators and local authorities in 2024 will be to continue to attract customers. Initiatives such as multi-operator ticketing (MOT) and tap on tap off (TOTO) make bus travel a more attractive proposition, encouraging travel and repeat journeys. However, the key metrics of affordability and reliability will determine the continued success and viability of operations. Amid escalating costs and rising customer expectations, on-the-day decision-making will be critical in ensuring service quality. This demands an evolution of control room systems to provide a complete, holistic view of operations in real-time, helping controllers get ahead of problems on the network and proactively find solutions.
The year ahead
2023 has been a dynamic and transformative period for the industry, marked by challenges and significant developments. As we look ahead to 2024, collaboration emerges as a central theme, with franchising gaining prominence and funding set to reshape the sector.
Technology will play an increasingly important role, helping bus operators and LTAs to successfully navigate these challenges and help the bus industry to go from strength to strength.
Solutions to support the year ahead:
- For planning and managing franchise networks ETM DAS and Contract Performance.
- To improve driver retention and communication a driver app such as OmniENGAGE.
- Empowering control room teams to efficiently manage and resolve on-the-day issues to deliver a quality bus service, as well as achieve significant cost-savings with Control360.
- Data / intelligence streamlined with Insights providing management teams with a comprehensive view, enabling them to make well-informed decisions.
- Flexible timetable display solution, OmnSTOPdesign, allows for efficient and cost-effective turnaround for roadside publicity.
Ready to start driving forward in 2024? Get in touch to build a tailored solution today