Bus services are the most used form of public transport in England and Wales, and are key to tackling loneliness and social exclusion and helping rural communities to stay connected. They also reduce road congestion and pollution.
But despite their social, economic and environmental importance, bus networks have been under the cosh: facing funding cuts, rising fares and lower passenger numbers during and post-Covid. The charity’s research revealed that one in four bus services had been cut in the last decade, with the result that many people were being stranded in their neighbourhoods with no means of getting about.
The Campaign for Better Transport – a 50-year-old charity with an income of £358,000 in 2019-20 – had already identified the need for a national strategy to protect the bus network, and as Covid spread the charity decided to launch a campaign. It aimed to raise awareness among policymakers of the plight of buses and convince national government to stump up more funding to support services. Post lockdowns, it also wanted to persuade the government to back an initiative to get people back on board buses.
The campaign, which launched in early 2020, was centred around research reports demonstrating how services had been cut back over the years, along with first-hand accounts of how these cuts were affecting people and communities. The team also used social and traditional media engagement and advertising, met with MPs and gave evidence to the Transport Select Committee inquiry into reforming public transport post-pandemic. Its spokespeople were interviewed on 24 radio shows and 10 TV programmes.
As well as working with environmental and social justice charities, the team reached out to other groups that were being affected by the decline of the bus network, including the British Retail Consortium and UK Hospitality, and these groups also supported the campaign.
The government listened: in April 2020 it announced £400m to keep local transport services running during lockdown, and has since extended this support twice. In March 2021 it launched Bus Back Better, a national strategy for buses backed by £3bn. And single bus fares in England have been capped at £2 for the first half of 2023 following successful lobbying by the charity; it is now calling for this to be extended indefinitely.
The campaign’s profile helped the charity to secure a transformational £1m grant from the Foundation for Integrated Transport, which it plans to use to scale up its bus campaigning to secure long-term changes.
Charity Awards judge Kris Murali commended the charity for raising awareness of the problem, successfully getting central funds allocated to address it, and achieving sustainable impact.
Judge Martin Edwards said that coming from a rural community and leading a charity that operates in a rural area, he could vouch for the importance of Campaign for Better Transport’s efforts. “Transport access is hugely important to rural communities – it cuts you off from everything if commercial services get cut back.”
CC Reg no. 1101929