Do you have a question about Bus Users UK, who runs the buses, free travel for older people and disabled people etc? Have a look at our Frequently Answered Question and see if we can answer yours!
If you prefer printed timetables, in many areas local authorities produce bus timetables. Most local bus companies do their own, usually (with some honourable exceptions) omitting the services run by other companies in the same area. See our links page to find out where to contact them, or to find their timetables online.
Bus Users UK is a not-for-profit Company Limited by Guarantee. It is run by a board of directors elected by members at the Annual General Meeting. We are not a Government agency or a statutory body, nor are we run by the bus companies.
We do receive funding from Welsh and Scottish governments for our operations in those countries. This is subject to Key Performance Indicators required by those Governments, which are in line with our overall policy, aims and objectives.
On a day-to-day basis our Chief Executive Claire Walters oversees all our operations from our Shepperton head office. We have separate offices in Edinburgh for Bus Users Scotland, overseen by our Senior Officer for Scotland Gavin Booth and in Cardiff for Bus Users Cymru, overseen by our Senior Officer for Wales, Margaret Everson.
In addition to funding from the Welsh and Scottish governments for these offices, we also receive some funding from the Department for Transport for our role as the recognised body to oversee complaint handling under the EU Bus Passenger Rights Directive. This funding is supplemented by many of the bus companies, which fund us at a rate agreed through their trade association, the Confederation of Passenger Transport.
Policy is determined by the Board of Directors, which is answerable to our members, and although bus company funding is a valuable source of income to us it has no bearing on our policies or actions.
Many people assume that bus services are provided by local authorities and it is they who decide when and where buses should run. For the most part that’s not the case; bus and coach services in the United Kingdom – except in London and Northern Ireland – were deregulated back in the mid-1980s. So it’s commercial bus companies who make the decisions. Their services are also open to competition from other bus companies.
Following the privatisation of the state-owned bus groups and a number of bus companies owned by local authorities in Britain, there have been some major changes of ownership and the emergence of large national transport groups, principally:
- National Express.
These operators carry 70% of the UK’s bus passengers, operating through subsidiary companies around the country.
There are still 11 bus companies in local authority ownership, plus a number of smaller groups and a significant number of privately-owned companies, often operating in areas that would be uneconomical for the larger groups.
In 2012/2013 an estimated 5.1 billion bus passenger journeys were made in Great Britain – around two-thirds of all public transport journeys. Of these, 4.6 billion journeys were in England and half of these were in London. There were 1.5 billion rail journeys over the same period.
In places where bus companies don’t run, usually because there isn’t enough customer demand to cover costs, the Local Transport Authority can invite operators to bid for funding to run a service there.
The same procedure applies where bus companies decide it’s not worthwhile running services in the evening or on Sundays, but the Local Transport Authority thinks there should be a service. Usually the bus company that offers the cheapest price gets the contract, but if a higher price gives better value for money by offering higher quality or adding something extra, it can be accepted.
In most places the Local Transport Authority is the County Council. In former Metropolitan Areas, however, there are Integrated Transport Authorities (ITAs) that have that role through their Passenger Transport Executives (PTEs), and can levy the local authorities in their area to cover the costs. Where there isn’t a County Council or an ITA, unitary authorities are usually the Local Transport Authority.
Most urban bus services are run as commercial operations, but outside urban areas a greater proportion of bus services can only run with a subsidy from Local Transport Authorities. Financial cutbacks have severely restricted budgets resulting in services having to be cut completely in some areas.
Responsibilities of the Local Transport Authority:
- Bus service information, although some bus companies choose to provide it themselves, or are contracted to do so by the Local Transport Authority.
- Bus stops, although District Councils or Borough Councils often provide shelters. These are usually sub-contracted to companies which provide and maintain them in exchange for the right to sell advertising on them.
Public transport is an easy target for the national and local media. There is a strong perception, especially among non-users, that bus services are unreliable. The reality is not always as bad as that, but it is true that buses face an increasing struggle to keep to time.
Bus drivers, as the people on the spot, usually get the blame from the public, but more often than not it is external circumstances which make services unreliable. The phenomenon of two or three buses coming together after a long gap in service makes buses the butt of comedians’ jokes, but drivers don’t sit and wait for the bus behind to catch up. As a bus gets delayed by traffic so it starts picking up passengers waiting for the next one as well as its own and slows the bus down further.
Meanwhile the one behind as a result gets fewer passengers and begins to catch up.
Increasing car use nationwide is making roads more and more congested in more and more towns. Not only that, the patterns of traffic congestion are not always predictable; if the 08.15 bus always took 10min longer than the 09.15 bus due to heavier traffic, schedulers could make allowances for it. But it isn’t that simple.
So much congestion is made worse by small acts of selfishness; the car that stops for two minutes on a yellow line while the driver just pops in to get a paper on his way to work can have an enormous knock-on effect — especially if, as often happens — several drivers do the same, so that 15 cars just stopping for two minutes have blocked the road for a total of half an hour.
Bus priorities in many cases are improving journey times. Although enforcement cameras are helping to improve things, bus lanes are not always policed very well. A car parking in a bus lane renders the lane totally useless. Design of bus lanes is not always ideal; they are often too narrow and difficult to negotiate where the road curves. And when roadways are narrow and congested it can become too difficult for highways engineers to come up with a solution that helps the bus.
Things like roadworks can cause chaos to bus services, and can have knock-on effects such that bus services in other parts of a town can be affected by them: it’s not always obvious to passengers waiting for a bus in a different part of town why the bus has got delayed.
There are of course occasions where bus services miss out because a bus has broken down or because a driver has not turned up for work, though more frequent causes of unreliability are usually down to traffic congestion.
Most of the costs involved in running a bus service are paid for by the passengers using them. Bus and coach services receive considerably less subsidy than other forms of public transport.
As well as financial support for bus routes that are thought to be socially necessary, bus companies also receive a grant to offset the duty paid on fuel, based on the mileage they operate.
Bus companies are also reimbursed for journeys made by concession card holders, usually a proportion of the fare that would have been paid:
- In England this is paid for by Local Transport Authorities; in 2011/12 local authorities in England spent £1.109 billion on concessionary fares.
- Welsh and Scottish Government pay the reimbursement directly to bus companies at a fixed proportion of the normal adult fare.
- In Scotland the rate is currently 60p in the pound, subject to an annual cap of £187 million.
- In Wales the annual cost is around £70 million
Bus Service Operators Grant
At one time all the fuel duty for bus services was paid back to bus companies by the Government as Fuel Duty Rebate, but that’s been replaced by Bus Service Operators Grant (BSOG).
- Rebates amount to 34.57p per litre for diesel, though the duty on diesel is nearly 58p per litre.
- In 2012/13 just over £411 million was paid to bus operators in England through BSOG.
- In Scotland, BSOG is paid at the rate of 14.4p per kilometre (20p per kilometre for buses using 100% biofuel).
BSOG was replaced in Wales by Regional Transport Services Grant (RTSG) on 1 April 2013. It’s administered by the Regional Transport Consortia working with Bus Users Cyrmu and other organisations representing bus passengers, the bus industry and others. The total budget available to the Consortia in 2013-14 is £25 million.
Commercial services in Wales receive a fee for every mile run in service. Services subject to local authority contracts and procurement procedures receive public funding through the terms of service contracts.
Bus services are a commercial business and, in most cases, bus companies are free to set whatever prices they like. They have to make a commercial judgement as to how much they charge, covering all their costs without being so expensive that nobody travels.
In London, Transport for London sets the fares, but elsewhere most fares are set by the bus company. Ticket prices are not regulated.
Where more than one bus company provides a service over the same route they are not usually allowed to agree the fares between them, so you may well be charged different prices for the same journey by different bus companies.
Some local authorities allow two or more bus companies to charge the same fares and accept each other’s tickets. There are also choices of day and longer-period tickets in some areas which can be used on one bus company’s services only, or a higher-priced ticket that can be used on the services of more than one company.
You should check the local bus companies’ websites (see our Links page) to see what’s available.
Transport for London regulates bus services in the capital, but bus services everywhere else in the UK are deregulated. Bus companies are free to run services where and when they choose, and can set their own fare levels.
To run buses and coaches, however, bus companies have to have a licence issued by the Traffic Commissioners. They also have to register bus services with Traffic Commissioners, giving them full details of the route and timetable to which they have to comply.
The role of traffic commissioners
Bus companies need to be licensed by the Traffic Commissioners, who regulate the bus, coach and haulage industries. They have to register their services with the appropriate Traffic Commissioner, giving 56 days’ notice to start, end or change a service. The service must then run on the days and times registered. Traffic commissioners can:
- bring bus operators to Public Inquiry if there are perceived problems such as unreliability, late or early running, driver behaviour and dangerous vehicles
- impose fines
- restrict or remove licences
Each Traffic Commissioner presides over a Traffic Area. Policy is laid down by the Senior Traffic Commissioner, currently Beverley Bell, who is also the Traffic Commissioner for the North West of England.
The Traffic Commissioners can be contacted by phone on 0300 123 9000. They are as follows, by Traffic Area:
London and the South East of England
3 Ivy Terrace
Eastbourne BN21 4QT
North East of England
386 Harehills Lane
Leeds LS9 6NF
The Stamp Office
10 Waterloo Place
Edinburgh EH1 3EG
North West of England
Stone Cross Place
Stone Cross Lane
Warrington WA3 2SH
West Midlands and Wales
38 George Road
Birmingham B15 1PL
East of England
Cambridge CB2 8BF
West of England
Bristol BS5 0GB
Pensioners and disabled people resident in England are entitled to a bus pass giving them free local bus travel throughout England between 09.30 and 23.00 Monday-Friday and at any time at weekends/Bank Holidays (and what you do between 23.00 and midnight on a Friday is anyone’s guess!).
Some local authorities will give residents additional entitlement within their own area.
If you live in London you are entitled to a Freedom Pass which will allow you to use buses, Underground, Docklands Light Railway and Croydon Tramlink free of charge at any time, as well as giving you free bus travel in the rest of England between 09.30 and 23.00 Monday-Friday and at any time at weekends/Bank Holidays.
You qualify for a bus pass or Freedom Card as you reach the female retirement age; click here to check when you qualify.
You should also qualify for a pass if:
- you receive the Higher Rate Mobility Component of Disability Living Allowance (HRMCDLA)
- you have been awarded at least eight points against either the ‘Moving around’ and/or ‘Communicating verbally’ activities for Personal Independence Payment (PIP)
- you receive War Pensioner's Mobility Supplement (WPMS).
The English National Concessionary Travel Scheme is operated by County Councils, Unitary Authorities and Passenger Transport Executives. Passes are not valid for journeys within Scotland or Wales, though may be valid for some cross-border journeys.
Pensioners and disabled people resident in Scotland are entitled to a bus pass giving them free local bus travel and free coach travel throughout Scotland at any time.
In Scotland there are two concessionary fare schemes on local bus services. All residents aged 60 or over, and disabled people of all ages, can travel free on registered local bus services and scheduled express coach services in Scotland.
If you’re over 60 and Resident in Scotland you can apply for a National Entitlement Card through your local authority or SPT travel centre. Click here to find their details.
Click here to see if you qualify for a disabled person’s bus pass.
- The scheme also allows a companion to travel with you if:
- you receive the higher or middle rate of the care component of Disability Living Allowance
- you receive the standard or enhanced rate of daily living component of Personal Independence Payment, Attendance Allowance, you’re registered blind
- you live in a care or residential home and receive the higher or middle rate of the care component Disability Living Allowance or Attendance Allowance
- you receive war pensions Constant Attendance Allowance.
Click here for more information.
The Scottish concessionary fare bus travel scheme is operated by local authorities across Scotland. Your bus pass can be used at any time of day anywhere in Scotland, and on limited journeys across the border into England. It’s not valid for journeys within England or Wales.
You can find out more from Transport Scotland.
Pensioners and disabled people resident in Wales are entitled to a bus pass giving them free local bus travel throughout Wales at any time.
In Wales there are two concessionary fare schemes on local bus services. All residents of Wales aged 60 or over, and disabled people of all ages, are able to travel free on registered local bus services in Wales. The scheme also allows free travel on local bus services in Wales by companions to disabled people where medical opinion advises that they are unable to make a journey by public transport on their own.
The Welsh concessionary fare bus travel scheme is operated by local authorities across Wales. Your bus pass can be used at any time of day anywhere in Wales, and on limited journeys across the border into England. It’s not valid for journeys within England or Scotland.
You need to apply to your local authority for your bus pass, and they will ask for proof of residence in Wales and of your age or disability.
Eligibility for the disabled person’s pass
The criteria of eligible disabilities are set out in the Transport Act 2000. The definition of a disabled person given in the Act is a person who:
- is blind or partially sighted
- is profoundly or severely deaf
- is without speech
- has a disability, or has suffered an injury, which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on his or her ability to walk
- does not have arms or has long-term loss of the use of both arms
- has a learning disability
- cannot have a driving a licence for reasons of physical fitness (not caused by persistent misuse of drugs or alcohol).
You can find out more here.
Bus services in London are regulated, which means they’re run under different legislation to the rest of Great Britain. (Bus services in Northern Ireland are also regulated.)
Things like the bus network and fares are set by Transport for London which is responsible to the Mayor of London. Bus operators submit tenders to operate routes and successful companies have to meet the routes, times and fares laid down by Transport for London. Transport for London pays the bus company to run the bus route and keeps the fares.
Since the Greater London Authority was set up with an elected Mayor bus services have been seen as a vital part of London’s transport system and have been given excellent priority networks. Much effort was made to improve the system to create a real alternative to cars before the Congestion Charging system was set up in Central London. Some of the funding for bus services actually comes from the Congestion Charge.
Many journeys on London buses are made in the suburbs, stretching around 15 miles out from Central London. As many bus journeys are now made in London as are made in the rest of England put together: around 2.3million a year.
It is often suggested that local buses should be fitted with seatbelts to improve safety. Indeed all buses and coaches built after 1 October 2001 and not used for urban transport are required to be fitted with seatbelts, as are all vehicles used primarily by children.
Drivers are not responsible for ensuring everyone is wearing a seatbelt, but there have to be signs on the vehicle reminding people to fasten seatbelts and drivers should remind passengers. Where a vehicle has seatbelts, drivers are required to check seatbelts visually before the bus leaves the depot.
Buses that run in urban areas, or into urban areas, are not required to have seatbelts. In practice, vehicles on urban services tend not to be able to reach particularly high speeds, and it’s impractical for passengers to wear seatbelts for what are often short journeys.
The economics of local bus services also often require passengers to be able to stand at busy times, although a much higher proportion of bus passengers in the UK get a seat than is the case in most other countries.
In fact buses in the UK have an extremely good safety record.
Buses are increasingly becoming wheelchair accessible.
Most buses built since 2000 are wheelchair accessible by law and all single-deck buses need to be accessible by 2016, and double-deckers by 2017.
This requires buses to have a wheelchair ramp and a suitable wheelchair space. There may be times when another wheelchair user is already on the bus and usually buses will only have space for one wheelchair.
There is no law requiring buses to carry mobility scooters; it’s at the discretion of the bus company.
Many bus companies will assess your mobility scooter and, if it meets their requirements, they’ll issue you with a permit allowing you to take your scooter on the bus. The requirement is usually that it’s a ‘Class 2’ scooter (not a ‘Class 3’ that can do 6-8mph) and that it’s no more than 600mm wide and 1,000mm long.
Use our links page to find contact details of your local bus company.
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