Bus Service Improvement Plans (BSIP) & Carbon

Various Local Authorities are working hard on completing their Bus Service Improvement Plans (BSIP) ready for the October deadline. This is part of the Government’s Bus Back Better Strategy announced in the middle of March. Those plans would always be overshadowed by all the commitments and plans the Government would be launching in time for COP26. Yet transport and behaviour change are fundamental parts of a lower carbon future. And neither are easy.

As part of our project with the Geospatial Commission into rural mobility as a service, we undertook a survey of inhabitants in the District of the Forest of Dean. The report on almost 400 respondents gave clear overall indications on what might change behaviour back to greater use of public transport for the 20% of the UK inhabitants living in rural areas.

Digging Deeper

BSIP Public transport needs evaluationRespondents were asked to rank 8 statements relating to public transport on a four-point scale from not important to very important. The statements were drawn from a recent report on identified success factors for buses to gain increased use. From the above chart, overall, for rural users knowing when it will arrive and keeping to the schedule for arrival and departure were the most important. Having a reservable seat the least important.

Elsewhere 19.2% of those surveyed said that nothing would make them use their car less. Most of these were habitual car users as first choice. Only a few indicated that they also used other forms of transport already. Removing these 19% responses did not significantly change the mean scores of each of these factors, with one exception. The importance of having low emission vehicles increased by 0.1 to above 3 for the overall sample. Perhaps the low carbon message is beginning to be heard?

Bus User Perceptions versus Non-Users

We’re able to divide the overall sample into 3 user types. Those who use the bus:

  • daily, 3-4 times a week and weekly;
  • occasionally eg monthly
  • never.

As the last two are 89% of the sample, there is always going to be a strong statistical skew to the occasional and never use on factors that would encourage more bus use. It is therefore no real surprise that occasional users and never use do not significantly vary from the overall mean perceptual scores. Buses must be more reliable, go to more places and be more frequent. In other words, certainty and choice are key. This suggests the need for radical overhaul for BSIPs covering rural areas not just a harking back.

BSIP Rural bus needsFrom the data, bus users are keener on ticket cost than the overall average and rank low emission vehicles and reservable seats lower. This is in part because this group of respondents is much less likely to have an alternative means of transport. They’re not attracted by low carbon, understand the reality of buses and the chances of sitting, and want to arrive. In other words, functional pragmatic choice driven by economics. This is a clear call to make BSIPs have a focus on creating attractiveness for the transport solution for the many.

BSIP Takeaways

Buses and integrated public transport systems are a pragmatic solution to reduce the significant carbon footprint of travel.

Treating the potential traveller as a homogenous whole is dangerous as the importance of the relative factors changes as the reason for travel changes.

A plan that looks to revive the old ways will work equally badly as one where the main attraction is seen to be lower carbon. The former attracts few new users: the latter is not yet a higher enough priority for most consumers to change their behaviours.