Can We Double Bus Use? Southampton?s Vision

Can We Double Bus Use? Southampton?s Vision


N Richardson, Mott MacDonald, UK


Many UK cities have challenges to achieve more bus use due to institutional arrangements, planned urban expansion and a desire for more sustainable transport. Southampton?s bold vision is for a doubling in the number of bus users in the city.


Southampton is a large urban area in southern England that typifies the problems of providing local bus services. The number of bus users has changed little over many years but the pressures of city expansion and the need to provide the means to travel sustainably have prompted a fresh look at how buses can meet future demand and how current provision should be changed to address that demand. The aim is to create an exemplar bus service that increases the number of bus users significantly, aiming at doubling current levels.

A broad view has been adopted, taking a wide-ranging review of land use proposals, changing demography and work patterns. This is essential if transport services are to meet people?s daily needs. In the UK, research has tended to concentrate on the attitudes of existing bus users with some uninspiring indicators of quality. Instead, we should concentrate on the attitudes of non-users who represent the potential market for local bus services. The bus has much to offer them including better journey times facilitated through more priority measures and new technology applications, notably cost-effective real time information systems and smart card ticketing. These feature strongly in other European centres but have yet to be adopted as standard across the UK, often constrained by high cost and complex institutional arrangements. Strong marketing campaigns have proved to be effective but have been limited in number and can be linked more closely with workplace travel plans. We also need to consider external factors, particularly parking supply and pricing which influence the decision to travel by car.

Partnership working is at the core of any improvements. The UK system of local authorities, bus operators and others all with diverging requirements will continue to frame the rate of progress but we need to overcome barriers and exploit common ground. In Southampton this means reconciling commercial needs and strategic aspirations and involves taking the bold step from comfortable and familiar ground to innovation and concerted growth. The mindset that some patronage growth can be achieved at the margins or on selected routes needs to be superseded by an intention to improve the whole offer substantially. In aiming to double the number of users, we need to recognize that the product must be good, more bus provision may be to the detriment of some car users and that more supply in itself does not necessarily mean that commensurate demand will occur naturally.

Southampton provides a good example of how the potential to develop bus services could be taken forward as part of the wider strategy to regenerate and expand urban areas. This paper sets out how this should be achieved for buses and the benefits that would result for local people, the business community and the wider area. The aspiration for more bus users is likely to become a necessity as the city centre is regenerated and economic ambitions are realized.


Association for European Transport