London has 675 bus routes, with around 9,000 buses in operation and over 19,000 bus stops. So it’s probably no surprise to hear that buses are the busiest form of public transport in the capital. Approximately 2.5 billion bus passenger trips are made every year – which is around double the number made on London Underground!
Transport links are key in enabling access to employment, education and overall wellbeing.
The bus is an affordable mode of public transport and a key policy tool for tackling deprivation and inequality. The London Assembly Transport Committee is investigating two major issues facing the bus system: the safety of bus passengers and other road users and how Transport for London plans the bus network to best suit passenger needs.
When we have completed our investigation we will make recommendations to the Mayor and to TfL on how we think London’s buses need to improve.
The safety of buses has deteriorated in the last year. There were 4,297 injuries between April and December 2015, compared with 4,196 over the same period the year before (an increase of 2.5 per cent). However, the number of casualties being taken to hospital decreased by 4.2 per cent over the same period, suggesting that the increase was driven by a rise in minor injuries.
Overwhelmingly, bus passengers are the group most likely to be injured as a result of a bus incident – most injuries are sustained in the ‘slips, trips and falls’ category. However, in terms of fatalities, bus passengers are (unsurprisingly) less at risk than other road users.
Our investigation will review how TfL is trying to improve bus safety, in part by assessing the first year of TfL’s Bus Safety Programme (which launched in February 2016). The investigation will consider a range of factors that influence bus safety, such as incentives and targets set by TfL, bus driver training, plans for new technologies and the influence of road design.
We are also looking at how incidents are managed by TfL, both in terms of the experience passengers have during an incident and any follow up, and in terms of the procedure followed to log, report and learn from incidents.
Bus drivers, employed by bus operators, are often the focus of efforts to improve bus services. There have been calls for improvements in driving skills to reduce collisions and passenger incidents on the bus. We will examine how bus operators prioritise safety, and also explore why some operators have stronger safety records than others.
As part of our investigation, we’re also hosting a number of roundtable discussions to hear the views and experiences of London’s bus operators, bus drivers and their representatives. Some of the topics we’ll be discussing include:
- what the main causes of bus collisions and incidents are
- what would make London’s roads safer for vulnerable road users
- what would make buses safer for passengers
- how effective the different driver safety training programmes are
- how effective incident response and reporting processes are
We also have a number of questions going out in Talk London’s next Talking Points survey, so keep any eye out for those.
Bus Network Planning
Until recently London had defied the national trend of diminishing bus usage; bus usage in London increased consistently for nearly a decade. However, the number of bus journeys in London began to decline in 2014, and last year it fell by almost four per cent.
Reliability has also deteriorated with excess waiting times (the amount of extra time people are waiting for buses beyond what TfL forecasts they should have to wait) increasing from an average of 1 minute in 2013/14 to 1.2 minutes in 2015/16. TfL believes congestion is the main reason for the increased journey times and unreliability of buses, with the result that passengers are turning away from buses and seeking other modes of transport.
The Mayor and TfL are making efforts to improve bus services including the introduction of a one-hour bus hopper ticket, enhanced passenger information, new services and a major review of Central London bus routes (as part of the plans to pedestrianise Oxford Street). We are examining what impact these changes might have, and what else TfL could be doing to improve London’s bus network.
It’s not too late to get involved in the investigations. Our call for evidence, which outlines the key question areas, is here. We’d love to hear what you think.
CAROLINE PIDGEON AM, CHAIR OF THE LONDON ASSEMBLY TRANSPORT COMMITTEE