An ambitious vision to improve local bus services and help them recover from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic has been announced by Wokingham Borough Council.
Following a recent meeting of its decision-making executive, the authority has published its Bus Service Improvement Plan - a strategic document which outlines a series of high-level targets to be met by 2026, subject to Government funding and the agreement of local bus operators.
The plan sets out to boost passenger numbers to 3 million following a recent decline from 2.8 million before the covid-19 outbreak to 1.8 million, or roughly 65 per cent of pre-pandemic levels.
The Department for Transport has set aside £3 billion to support local bus services across England and if Wokingham borough gets a sufficient share, the plan aims to cut journey times and improve services between key destinations including Wokingham town, Twyford, Earley, Woodley, Reading, Bracknell and Henley.
Other steps to be agreed with operators over the coming months would include more frequent and more reliable bus services, better access in rural areas, more attractive fares for young people, better marketing and improving buses themselves.
Cutting down on carbon
Operators would be supported to “green” their fleets by upgrading existing vehicles or buying new ones that use cleaner and more modern technology, including electric vehicles.
The strategy would support the council's air quality action plan and ambition to play as full a role as possible in reducing our carbon footprint to be net zero carbon by 2030.
The plan also aims to further improve passenger satisfaction levels, which are already well above the national average, to 95 per cent for Reading Buses and Thames Valley Buses, the borough's two biggest operators.
The document will be reviewed annually and will introduce a passengers' charter and user group giving users more of a say in how services run. The former will explain what standards passengers can expect and how to complain if they aren't satisfied.
Having published the plan, the council now hopes to agree more detailed steps through an enhanced partnership with operators by April 2022.
'So many benefits for residents'
Cllr Pauline Jorgensen, executive member for highways and transport, said: “Improving bus services across the borough, including those serving destinations in neighbouring authorities, is a priority because it will benefit our residents in so many ways.
“If the council receives sufficient funding, this plan presents the opportunity to make a real difference to the range of travel options available to residents by providing good alternatives to car transport.”
Cllr Gregor Murray, executive member for resident services, communications and emissions, added: “Reducing car journeys and supporting the roll-out of greener buses will improve air quality by cutting levels of harmful emissions released into the atmosphere.
“If funding is available and agreement is reached with operators, our bus service improvement plan will also reduce the volume of greenhouse emissions like carbon dioxide, ensuring Wokingham borough continues to do all it can to address the climate emergency.”
All measures would be delivered alongside the council's Local Cycling and Walking Implementation Plan, which is set to go to public consultation soon, to ensure direct and convenient access to the bus network for longer active journeys.
The council will also continue working with developers and route operators to secure bus services for new homes being built as part of the council's local plan, which will be updated following a public consultation running from 22 November to 17 January.
Developers would be expected to provide seed funding for these services, which is one of the benefits of the authority's strategic approach to allocating land for major new communities, although the routes would have to become commercially viable in the long run.
You can read the plan in full here.
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