Increased congestion and major roadworks are being blamed for the number of bus journeys in London falling by almost 3 times the rate seen elsewhere in England.
Department for Transport figures show that outside London, the number of journeys made in 2016/17 was down 0.8% when compared with 2015/16, versus a fall of 2.3% in the capital.
Over the period there were a total of 4.44 billion bus journeys taken in England, more than half of which (2.4bn) were made in London.
London’s faster rate of decline has been branded “frankly embarrassing” by Liberal Democrat London Assembly member Caroline Pidgeon.
In 2006, Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee found that London was the only English region to see a growth in bus usage, with journeys increasing by 40% compared to 2000/01, while other areas saw a fall of seven per cent.
The increase was credited to Transport for London and former Mayor Ken Livingstone’s investment in new vehicles and prioritising of bus services.
However London’s performance has been slipping in recent years.
The fall is widely blamed on growing congestion levels and journey times which a recent Assembly report warned have been worsening since 2012/13 and have caused bus waiting times to soar, making them a less attractive option.
Ms Pidgeon said: “Buses should be part of the solution of reducing congestion on our roads by providing practical alternatives to car journeys, yet perversely many bus journeys are now becoming slower due to increasing congestion on our roads.
“15 years ago measures were put in place to start prioritising buses on our roads helping to make bus travel more attractive and leading to more than a decade of increased bus ridership.
“It is time we revisited these policies to ensure that the decline in bus use is quickly reversed in London.”
TfL has always accepted that a series of major road schemes would have a temporarily detrimental effect on journey times for all road users.
The agency says the work is necessary if the capital’s road network is to be made safer for pedestrians and cyclists, as well as being able to cope with London’s growing population.
It also claims that in areas where schemes are now completed it’s seen a local rise in bus ridership and that the overall rate of decline has been decreasing since mid-2016.
Claire Mann, Director of Bus Operations, said: “Between 2015 and 2016 there was a drop in passenger numbers but, as road improvement works have finished, those numbers have levelled off, and have actually been climbing in some areas over the last year, particularly in London’s outer boroughs.”
Mann added that TfL’s own latest figures “show an overall drop of just 0.4% since the end of 2016, half that seen recently outside London.”
She credited the improved performance to Mayor Sadiq Khan’s Hopper fare and fares freeze which she said had “helped encourage people to make more journeys using buses.”
TravelWatch recently set out a package of measures it says TfL should adopt to boost bus journey times, including extending the operating hours of Red Routes, including making some 24/7, increasing the hours the congestion charge operates each day and scrapping minicabs’ exemption from the charge.