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How much does it cost to run a bus?

Opinion | By Edward Leigh, Smarter Cambridge Transport

Smarter Cambridge Transport- Edward Leigh. Picture: Keith Heppell. (13259102)
Smarter Cambridge Transport- Edward Leigh. Picture: Keith Heppell. (13259102)

On average, the charge for providing a one-way bus trip in a non-metropolitan region of England is £1.73. Of that, 39p comes from government to cover use of concessionary travel passes; 14p is a fuel duty rebate from central government; and 20p comes from local authorities to support unprofitable services. That leaves the passenger paying £1 for the fare. Of course, few people pay an ‘average’ fare (though that is currently the fare on some services from Cambridge station).

Of the £1.73 a bus operator receives, £1.48 covers operating costs and 25p covers corporation tax and profit, some of which is reinvested (e.g. in new vehicles) and some paid out in dividends.

The most interesting figure here is the 20p subsidy per passenger-journey that local authorities pay. Compare it with the £1 per vehicle subsidy to park at a Park & Ride site. Which provides better value for taxpayers’ money? Which is more equitable?

The new Park & Ride at Hauxton, approved for detailed planning last week, is intended for use only until the Cambridgeshire Autonomous Metro opens, which could be six years after the P&R opens in 2023. The construction cost of £47million could equate to an annual cost of £8million, or £10 per parking space per day.

That would buy a lot of a bus subsidy, potentially supporting as many as 40 million extra passenger-journeys a year, or 55,000 return trips per day. This is the kind of step change in public transport provision needed for the Biomedical Campus. By the end of this year, over 47,000 people will be accessing that site every weekday. What would make the bigger difference: another 2,500 people using Park & Ride or 55,000 more people using buses in the region?

Franchising would enable local authorities to commission those new bus services. But there are simpler ways to do it right now, using partnership agreements to set routes and service levels. GCP is still pursuing big infrastructure solutions when what is most needed, at least in the short term, is investment in bus services, travel hubs, and connecting walking and cycling routes.

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