Bus Industry FAQs

Q: How big is the UK bus industry?

The UK bus industry supports around 170,000 jobs, as well as and thousands of others in bus manufacturing and support services. In total, there are around 9,000 companies licenced to operate buses and coaches in the UK, with around 22,000 registered bus services.

Stagecoach is one of the biggest UK bus operators, running 8,100 buses and employing around 25,000 people across the country. Around 2 million people travel on our buses every day. Other major operators include Arriva, National Express, GoAhead and First. There are also many independent operators, as well as non-UK international transport groups.

Q: Why are buses important?

Buses are key to the country’s transport system and carry around two-thirds of all passengers using public transport – around four times the number of people who use trains. Official statistics show that buses are one of the safest forms of transport in the UK. The economy benefits from buses too. As well as providing thousands of job opportunities, most of the money spent in our town centre shops comes from people arriving by bus.

Buses are also central to delivering widespread improvements that our transport system needs at a price the country can afford. They can help cut congestion on our roads by attracting more people out of their cars. Buses also support social inclusion and help reduce pollution in our towns and cities.

Stagecoach is committed to these objectives through targeted investment in our greener, smarter services. We are committed to providing our customers with safe, easy-to-use, quality bus and coach services and value-for-money fares.

Q: How are bus services regulated?

Bus services in the UK regions outside London are deregulated, with companies largely free to set fares and timetables. This system was introduced with the Transport Act 1985, which was designed to reduce the cost of bus services on taxpayers and encourage a more commercial approach to meet changes in demand.

However, operators are still required to meet strict criteria. They are monitored by the Traffic Commissioner – an independent regulator – which licences operators and enforces punctuality and reliability standards. Bus companies also have to comply with legislation on health and safety, accessibility, driver training, and environmental performance.

London has a different regulatory regime where services and fares are specified by Transport for London (TfL), and operators bid to run TfL contracts. Under this model, passenger revenues are retained by TfL.

Q: How are bus services funded?

Around 80% of bus services are run on a commercial basis without any need for taxpayer support. Bus operators try to offer as extensive a network as possible on this basis to give passengers a wide choice of travel and ticket options. However, there are some services, such as in the evenings or at weekends or in less populated rural areas where this is not possible due to higher operating costs and the smaller number of people travelling. In these circumstances, where there is a clear social need, local authorities are given the power to fund such services. Councils put these services out to tender in the same way as other local authority contracted operations, such as refuse collection.

Bus operators can bid for the contract, which is decided on the basis of the best price and quality. The successful operator is then usually paid the difference between the operating costs and the revenue generated from paying passengers.

Public funding for bus services in this country is actually one of the lowest in Europe and more than 60% of all bus subsidy in Great Britain is focused on London buses. Since 2000, there has been a nine-fold increase in public subsidy for the London bus network.

Q: Are bus passenger numbers not falling?

Bus passenger volumes declined sharply from the 1950s under the former publicly owned monopoly operators, which were not responsive to customers or changing patterns of demand caused by lifestyle changes and the growth of car ownership. Investment in public transport also declined, resulting in a sharp drop in the number of people catching the bus until the early 1990s.

However, bus travel has increased in recent years, with significant growth in a number of UK regions and in London. It has followed sustained investment and more efficient working by bus companies, and partnerships with Government and local authorities. This has resulted in improved quality of service and high levels of customer satisfaction.

Q: So what do bus passengers think of the UK’s services?

Independent surveys of bus passenger satisfaction have been carried out since April 2000 and ratings are regularly above 80%. The Bus Passenger Satisfaction Survey (BPSS) used to be undertaken by the Department for Transport, but since April 2010 this function has been taken over by Passenger Focus. Passenger Focus is the independent watchdog, which operates on behalf of Britain's rail passengers and England’s bus passengers outside London, coach passengers on scheduled domestic services and tram passengers.

Interviews are conducted with over 11,000 passengers per year at bus stops and stations across England (excluding London) to assess satisfaction at national and regional level. Passengers are asked to rate their satisfaction with several aspects of the journey they have just undertaken, including the bus stop environment and ‘on the bus’ factors, as well as giving a rating of their overall experience of using the bus.

Q: Who decides bus timetables and routes?

Like most services, bus routes and networks are planned to match demand. Where enough people want to travel by bus, operators will run services.

Sometimes there are insufficient passengers to make certain services cover the staff costs, fuel, insurance, maintenance and the cost of buying and storing the vehicle. Occasionally routes have to be discontinued, but his is very much a last resort. Operators are committed to working with local authorities to explore ways to keep public transport links in these areas. However, both local councils and bus operators have finite resources and there are times when this is not possible.

Timetables are agreed with the Traffic Commissioner. To start a new service or change the timetable, operators are required to give 56 days’ notice in England and 70 days’ notice. The same notice period is required if a route is being discontinued due to passenger volumes being insufficient to cover the costs of running the service.

Q: Why are bus services different in rural areas?

Running bus services in rural areas presents a major challenge due to the geography of these areas and the small population levels. This often means that services are less frequent than in more populated areas and that traditional bus services are not necessarily the best way of maintaining public transport links. In these areas, it is important for bus operators and local authorities to work together to develop the best solutions. Sometimes, demand responsive taxibus-style operations are more suited to travel patterns.

Q: Who is responsible for managing roads?

Managing the roads and making decisions about priority measures for public transport have a critical impact on the standard of bus services. Without bus priority measures, buses get caught in the same congestion as cars. This means they are unable to operate reliably and ensure passengers have confidence in when they will arrive at the bus stop and get to their destination.

The key responsibilities for roads are:

  • Local roads – local authorities
  • Major roads in England – Highways Agency
  • Major roads in Scotland– Transport Scotland
  • Major roads in Wales – Welsh Assembly Government
  • Main arterial roads in London – Transport for London
Q: What about bus infrastructure?

Providing first-class bus services involves a package of measures and is as much about what happens off the bus as on it. Convenient bus stops, comfortable bus shelters and good information provision are crucial in making bus travel attractive. And effective bus priority measures – including dedicated bus lanes and traffic light priority for buses – are critical in ensuring buses can offer people a real alternative to the car. Many of these infrastructure issues are the responsibility of local authorities, but Stagecoach works closely with councils to help ensure these elements work in the best interests of passengers.

Q: How do concessionary bus fares work?

Separate schemes for nationwide free concessionary travel for the elderly and disabled are in place in England, Scotland and Wales. Qualifying passengers travel for free and the bus operators are reimbursed. Regulations require that bus operators are reimbursed on a “no better or worse off” basis.

In Scotland and Wales, the reimbursement is set at national level. In England, where free travel was introduced in 2006, the Government left reimbursement to local negotiation between bus companies and each of the Local Transport Authorities (“LTAs”), this has resulted in inconsistency and disputes between operators and authorities.

In recent years, the reimbursement rates received by bus operators have been reduced as central government funding has been squeezed. Bus operators, as well as local authorities, have expressed concerns that the current concessionary regime may be financially unsustainable for the public sector in the long run.

Q: How do I find out about bus services in my area?

Simple, accessible information is an important factor in encouraging people to travel by bus and Stagecoach is working hard to improve the standard of provision for customers. Our dedicated website, www.stagecoachbus.com, provides key customer information about our services, including timetables, ticketing and fares. You will also find the latest news updates about Stagecoach initiatives.

Stagecoach also supports Traveline, a partnership of transport operators and local authorities formed to provide impartial and comprehensive information about public transport. It operates in Scotland, England and Wales. You can access information online at www.traveline.info or call 0871 200 22 33 (+44 871 200 22 33 if dialling from outside the UK). Calls cost 10p per minute plus any charges your network provider makes. All the Traveline call centres are open from 8am to 8pm daily, with some open longer.