National Bus Strategy for England

On 15 March the Government announced it's National Bus Strategy for England 

This will see £3 billion of investment in bus services across England, to make bus use more attractive to encourage more people to use the bus and tackle climate change and social isolation

At the end of October 2021 the Council published a Bus Services Improvement Plan  which looks at what is currently available, a vision of how the Council would like to see services in future, and how this can be achieved.

The Plan will be used to unlock part of the funding available from the Government to achieve change.

By the end of March 2022, the County Council will need to have developed an "Enhanced Partnership" with bus operators across the County to set out to achieve the aims of it's Bus Service Improvement Plan.

Whilst there may be some short term funding from the Government, in the long term anything that is done will need to pay for itself, so generate enough extra passengers to pay for the improvement. So we are looking for ideas for improvements which will be here benefitting generations of bus users for many years to come. 

A daytime bus service using one bus can cost £400 a day to provide. So if each passenger pays a £3 fare the operator needs about 130 passengers to pay a fare to make the service viable (whilst users of ENCTS cards do not pay a fare themselves, the County Council pays the operator about 75% of a standard return fare, depending on the discount offered by the operator for passengers who but a return ticket rather than two singles). The higher the fare the fewer passengers needed, but also the less attractive the service is to new users.

Some options are:

Few services in Cumbria run on a "turn up and go" basis where passengers do not need to look at a timetable and can just walk to their bus stop and know a bus will soon arrive

Even on main routes some service only run very 30 minutes or every hour, so if you just miss one, you have a long wait for the next bus 

Are there areas where a more frequent service would attract enough extra users to pay for the extra buses needed to provide the additional journeys?

Public transport can be seen as much slower and less direct than the car

Making journey times faster by running more services direct between key locations, possible limited stop express services, benefitting from bus lanes and bus priority measures could make services more attractive to those who current do not use buses.

The problem with this is by running a more direct service other points on the route may be by-passed meaning they get a less frequent service.

Do you use a service you feel would be more attractive to new users if it could be faster and more direct? 

Buses that turn up when they are expected.

Cumbria does not suffer the same issues with traffic congestion as some other parts of the Country, but buses can be delayed and passengers waiting at stops further along the route do not know when (or if) their bus will arrive.

What can be done to improve this (for example giving the bus priority at traffic lights / restrictions of roadworks on bus routes)?

or do we just need better information to give passengers reassurance that their bus is on it's way (realtime displays at stops - or information on mobile phone apps?  

The cost of travel can be a major deterrent to using public transport, especially if travelling with others.

Value Day, weekly and season tickets already exist, but some people may not be aware of what is available and what is the cheapest way to travel? 

Sometimes season tickets do not fit with what people need (for example if only travelling to work on certain days in a work).

Many older existing users have Concessionary travel passes (ENCTS / NoWcards) which mean  they do not pay for travel, and therefore fares have risen as they travel regardless of costs.

Cutting standard fares or making more season tickets available will attract more people onto the bus - but costs will not fall, and existing users benefit from the same discounts, without necessarily using the bus any more. So by cutting fares by a third you need to get 50% more users on the bus, to collect the same amount of revenue.

If fares revenue does not cover costs, services will be withdrawn, so any reduction needs to significantly boost those using the bus to keep the service viable.  

One option the Government is keen on is a "tap on/off" system, where a computerise system then works out what would be the best value ticket for you, based on the value of current single, return, day, weekly or season tickets.

Another option is "flexible" season tickets (being trial in some areas on trains) where instead of needing to travel daily, the season ticket can be used for travel on three days on seven, so offering better value for those who do not work daily.  

"Fares are high due to free concessionary passes"

There are a lot of myths and misunderstanding about acceptance of the English National Concessionary Travel Scheme (ENCTS) passes (also know locally as NowCard).

Whilst the passenger travels free, the operator is reimbursed by the Council for accepting the pass, and are paid 58% of the normal Single fare.

This this may seem a low figure, but most passengers make return trips, and return fares are often about two thirds of the price of two single tickets, so the operator is really being paid about the equivalent of 75% of a standard return fare.

The reason it is not 100% is providing travel (or anything) for free will encourage greater usage. So on average if one in every four trips made by an ENCTS pass holder on a particular journey would not have been made without free travel, then the operator is receiving about the same revenue, as if everyone was having to pay (i.e. three trips at 100% =  four trips at 75%).

Changes to working patterns mean more people are needing to travel outside the normal 7am until 6pm Monday to Saturday operating times.

Costs of running on evenings and Sundays are lower than in the daytime on weekdays and even lower than at the peak times of demand when most workers, school pupils, college students are travelling. However demand is normally a lot lower so revenue collected is lower (plus driving a bus in the evening or on a Sunday may not be as attractive for drivers with young families).

Not knowing what is available - or where to find out more - is a barrier to using the bus 

A lot of information is available on the County Council's bus services website plus on websites run by operators themselves. 

Information come in many formats:

  • Paper timetables 
  • posters at the bus stop
  • Website
  • Telephone (traveline 0871 200 22 33 - costs 12p per minute plus your 'phone company's access charge) 
  • journey planners (fore example Traveline or in the directions section of google maps (click on the icon of the bus)
  • realitime information (where your bus is) (for example
  • fare information
  • maps of service 

Buses come in all shapes and sizes and colours.

One of the suggestions from the Government is to adopt a single livery for an area, so all  uses look the same regardless of who operates them.

Alternatively buses on certain route (or in certain towns) could be painted in the same colours with branding for that route to make it easier for passengers to recognize their bus.

Would travelling on a bus in colour for your Town - or your route - make you or others travel more? 

This idea would cost a lot less to deliver then many of the others.

One of the barriers to using the bus more, is many people find timetables difficult to read.

Not all stops are shown, and not all routes start or end in the same place or follow the same route between those places.

In Cumbria a number of years ago a decision was taken to simplify the timetables displayed at stops  

  • the times shown are specific to that stop
  • where possible the size of the print used is as large as possible
  • only key destinations, where passengers are more likely to be going to, are shown 
  • all buses from that stop to the destination are shown, regardless of the route they take, the company who operates them, or the number of the bus
  • where there is space return times from the destination are shown

Modern buses have engines which comply with the latest environmental standards and is some cases switch off engines when the vehicle come to a stand still.

A large part of the fleet used to provide services across the County is older and vehicles will normally only be replaced when it is viable for an operator to do so.

Across England there are trials of both Electric and Hydrogen powered vehicles.

The Council working with Stagecoach and other partners in the Barrow-in-Furness area bid for funding to the Government's "All Electric Bus Town" for help to purchase new Electric vehicles plus infrastructure to run all services in the town. 

Unfortunately the bid was not one of the successful ones.

When making a longer trip it can be frustrating when at a point where you need to change buses or from train to bus, you find you have a long time to wait.

The Strategy encourages more efforts to improve connections and for consideration for more buses to run via trains stations.

The low frequency of train services in the County, make this difficult, especially as trains often arrive and depart at different minutes past each hor. Also the limited facilities at many stations mean they are not an attractive place for a long wait between services. 

Also on longer route there are a number of potential connections so improving one connection may make another worse (for example the X4/5 between Workington and Penrith, could have potential connections with other service at Workington and Keswick, plus with both bus and trains at Penrith.

Hopefully things rarely go wrong and passengers receive the service they expect.

The Government is however recommending a "Passenger Charter" is established so passengers would know what standard of service they should expect, what to do if they do not receive it and how they should be recompensed when things do wrong.

So for example if a bus breaks down 

  • will the operator provide a replacement, 
  • how soon will this be done 
  • will they pay a taxi fare if a passengers needs to make an urgent appointment or get to work
  • will the operator refund return fares or season ticket payments if the service over 15 minutes late / does not run


What happens when a bus has to be diverted due to roadworks?

  • will the operator provide a minimum period of notice of the change
  • how will passengers be informed (notices on bus / messages on websites)

To make services attractive they need to be reliable and turn up when they are supposed to , but often the problem is outside of the bus operator or their drivers control, as the bus gets stuck in other traffic.

To take account of this extra time is added to timetables meaning journey times increase, making the bus less attractive to use, and the operator needs more vehicles and drivers to run the same level of service, so costs and fares rise or frequency drops.

One way to tackle this is to give the bus "priority" other traffic, by providing "bus only lanes" not available to other traffic to allow the bus to beat the queue, setting traffic lights to change to Green quicker to allow the bus through, or allow buses to make turns not available to other traffic.

All of the above existing in Cumbria, but there is very few "priority" measures often as it is difficult to make them without disrupting other traffic, moving delays slightly further along the road.

In some areas there are onboard announcements and sometime display screens which give passengers information on the next stop.

These can be really useful to visitors, to those with limited vision or in early morning or at night in areas without street lighting when it is difficult to see where you are.

In many areas of the County there is  only one operator and a number of day, weekly and season tickets are on offer

However in some areas there are different operators providing the service and they cannot sell these tickets (or accept them for travel on their buses) so someone wanting to use more than one operators service has to pay twice.

The Government would like to see all operators accepting each others tickets to make it easier, cheaper and more attractive for the passenger.

It is often difficult to provide viable bus services in certain parts of the County, especially in rural areas where the population is quite small.

Also when services are provide they are often infrequent and do not run at the start and end of the day or on evenings and Sundays.

The Government sees pre-booked Demand Responsive services (similar to the Council's Rural Wheels and Village Community Wheels schemes) as a way to offer a better more flexible service in areas with lower population, which can vary the time and route to best serve the needs of those who want to use them on a particular day.

The County Council was successful in a bid for £1.5 million of funding from the Rural Mobility Fund for four pilot projects in the Penrith; Egremont/St Bees; Wigton and Ulverston areas. The idea is the pre-booked services will bring people without access to their own transport from areas in a 10 to 15 mile radius of the "hub" towns, to access services in the town or to catch onward bus or train services. 

A key aim is to offer access to work, and to education for those who have passed the age where they qualify for free school transport. Also to offer services evening and Sundays, to help those who need to work access service outside normal hours.

The new services are not intended to replace or compete with existing bus service. The fare charge will be similar to normal bus fares, and it is hoped through tickets to complete the journey by  bus and/or train will be made available.  

One barrier to using the bus is not knowing what is available.

Where services go to and the excellent value that can be obtained from Day, Weekly and Season tickets, rather than paying daily. 

Some information is already available from the links on the menu on the top right hand side of this page.

Waiting a a bus stop, walking to or from a bus stop, and even being on a bus can be a daunting experience for many who are not regular public transport users.

There is also the new concern given by the message over the last twelve months to keep public transport use to a minimum.

There is a need to reinforce the message of what has been done to make travelling by bus safe for all.

Does your stop:

  • have a shelter 
  • some 
  • a stop sign
  • a raised kerb to make it easier to board (especially if you have any mobility problems) 
  • a timetable case
  • a realtime information display (to tell you when the bus is due). 
  • bus stop markings which prevent cars parking, to allow the bus to reach the kerb and make boarding easier, and help the driver see you and you to see the bus as it arrives at the stop.

What can be done to make where you get on or off you bus better ?

If you have ideas how local bus services could be made more attractive both to existing passengers and to encourage new passengers we want to hear from you

Email us:

Write to us:

Scheduled Bus Services
Cumbria County Council
PO Box 415