Kickstarting Growth in Bus Patronage: Experience with Targetted Grants in England and Scotland

Kickstarting Growth in Bus Patronage: Experience with Targetted Grants in England and Scotland


A L Bristow, M P Enoch, L Xhang, Loughborough University, UK; C Greensmith, N James, STAR, UK; S Potter, Open University, UK


An assessment of the performance of the Kickstart and Bus Route Development Grant Schemes recently introduced in England and Scotland respectively.


Government support to the bus industry in Britain has risen in recent years and has now reached pre-deregulation levels in real terms. Over the past ten years in England (outside London) both bus patronage and bus kilometres have fallen and continue to fall. The decline in bus kilometres is largely driven by the withdrawal of commercial services, which is not wholly offset by increases in supported services.

The Kickstart Scheme introduced in England in 2003 and the Bus Route Development Grant (BRDG) Scheme introduced in Scotland in 2005 attempted to address this problem through aiming to improve patronage and viability of services. The programmes award grants, through a competitive bidding process, of a maximum duration of three years to support the provision of new or enhanced bus services often in ?marginal? operating territory. Supported services are expected to achieve financial sustainability and ideally to become commercially viable through patronage growth by the end of the funding period.

This paper is based on an assessment of the performance of the Kickstart and BRDG schemes undertaken for the Department for Transport and the Scottish Executive in 2006. Three key aspects are included. Firstly an assessment of the bidding and implementation processes based on an extensive stakeholder consultation exercise with bus operators and Local Authorities covering all those holding grants and a number of unsuccessful bidders and non-bidders. Secondly, the actual performance of the supported services against objectives is examined using data gathered for the project. Finally, consideration is given to the future potential of such schemes within the current organisational structure in Britain and recommendations for the future made.

The performance analysis is limited by data availability and the short time periods of operation. However, where evidence is available the majority of schemes are achieving impressive levels of patronage growth on marginal or new services. There is also some, albeit limited, evidence of modal shift from car. Benefits to users have been delivered largely through frequency enhancements, new bus links and newer and more accessible vehicles. Levels of revenue support compare well with standard supported schemes and will fall over the lifetime of the schemes.

The programmes have stimulated genuine partnership working between operators and Local Authorities leading to greater understanding. In many cases the schemes have delivered added value over and above the original aims in a variety of ways including: the delivery of further service enhancements beyond that specified in bids as patronage has risen, levering additional support from operators and other organisations, releasing support for other purposes and encouraging the development of Kickstart style schemes by Local Authorities in co-operation with operators. Finally the programmes are likely to leave a positive legacy and offer a better return than subsidy that supports the status quo. There is clearly scope for reform of the existing subsidy mechanisms to place more emphasis on growing the market.


Association for European Transport