What are Bus Service Improvement Plans?

The South Downs Network are are asking their member and the public to participate in the public consolations currently open. Find out more CLICK HERE. These consultations close on 14th Sept 2021. This article provides further information about why councils are consulting.

Back in March the Government issued a Policy paper entitled Bus back betterA long-term strategy for buses in England, outside London. The Government has pledged £3 billion in funding across the country. Sounds a lot doesn’t it, but in reality this money has to be shared with big cities and councils right across England. There’s no guarantee that East Sussex, West Sussex, Hampshire, or Brighton & Hove City Council will get their (our) fair share or even get any money at all! How come, you may ask.  Well, in order to get funding the councils with transport responsibility have to bid for the funds.  Grant Shapps and his mates at the Department of Transport (DfT)will then decide who gets what.

The object is for local councils to produce a Bus Service Improvement Plan (BSIP) by 31st October 2021. A BSIP will formulate the delivery of outcomes required by the National Bus Strategy (NBS) as detailed in the government’s Bus Back Better policy paper. The BSIP is intended to be produced with bus companies and other partners. If the councils across East & West Sussex and Hampshire don’t put in a good bid, they may not get any money at all! Their bids must be as ambitious as possible. 

The Government say they are not expecting “vastly detailed and granular plans.” Instead, they say plans will be ‘living’ documents that will not be taken “as definitive or immutable commitments or statements of intent.” But they will act as an early basis for DfT funding decisions before monies are transferred in the 2022/23 financial year.

The BSIP submissions will set out a high-level vision and key interventions to deliver it. Their overarching aim will be to grow patronage.

It is likely that funding will be in two parts a) one allocated by formula to all and b) one for specific larger schemes. The DfT say they will give weight to measures that support local bus markets as they emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic.

It is required that BSIPs include a passengers’ charter. There must be mechanisms for redress at a local level and means to ensure that standards are met. That could include the establishment of Bus Advisory Boards. The Government requires a significant increase in priority measures and that fares must become lower and be simpler. Councils are expected to collaborate to mitigate any cross-border issues.

Examples of what might be in a BSIP could range from:

  • making services more frequent; faster and more reliable; cheaper; more comprehensive; easier to understand and use; and better integrated with other modes and each other.


  • New services such as bus rapid transit and other schemes that lie between conventional bus and light rail.

Also, councils must work with operators and energy providers to include ambitions in BSIPs to decarbonise bus fleets, with an expectation of all areas moving to zero-emission in the long term. Guidance recommends that a forum is created for “the free and frank exchange” of views, data, and ideas. It could be chaired independently or on BSIPs may be altered and republished if the council and operators believe that is necessary, and they should be revised at least every 12 months.

Other research/information


We will be using the ‘10 Point Guide’ produced by the campaign organisation Bus Users as the framework for our response. Click HERE to get a copy. Please feel free to use them. Also it is useful to refer to information produced by Transport Focus (the independent watchdog for transport users) on Bus Service Improvement Plans:

  • Passenger representation on Bus Service Improvement Plans  Download
  • Setting targets for Bus Service Improvement Plans  Download
  • Passenger charters for Bus Service Improvement Plans Download


Watch THIS webinar broadcast in July 2021 by the Independent Bus Operators. It will give you an insight into what the challenges are for the bus industry. Claire Walters CEO of the campaign group Bus User is inspiring and pulls no punches! Also there are presentations from Sarah Bott, Passenger Technology Group, Chris Cheek, Passenger Transport Monitor and Craig Temple, Connexions Buses.

Campaign for Better Transport

These reports and information should be used to implements a better bus service

‘The future of the bus’

‘Save our Buses Campaign Pack’

The future of rural bus services in the UK‘ (2018)

Sustainable Transport Alliance

Click HERE to see what the Sustainable Transport Alliance is about. Click HERE to see their Vision/Mission. Members include:  Community Rail Network; the Campaign for Better Transport; Bus Users UK; the Community Transport Association; Living Streets; Sustrans; the London Cycling Campaign; and Collaborative Mobility UK (CoMoUK).


The South Downs Network support CPRE in their campaign for better rural bus services “Every village, every hour”  How to finance it? Again, we agree with CPRE when they say “This can be achieved by redirecting just a portion of the funding planned for the government’s £27 billion road-building schemes.” Please sign the CPRE petition: Save rural life – buses for every community.

Also see: Rural ‘transport deserts’: do you live in one? by CPRE (2020)

Rural Services Network

Lessons for rural transport provision (2018)

ACRE (Action with Communities in Rural England)

Transport Policy Position Paper (2014)

Bus Back Better Strategy

What are the aims of the Bus Back Better strategy?  These include:

  • simple, cheap flat fares that can be paid using contactless cards;
  • daily and weekly price capping across different operators;
  • easy-to-understand services, consistent high standards and comprehensive information using mobile devices;
  • 4,000 new zero emission buses; and
  • a date for ending the sale of new diesel buses in the UK.

The strategy also outlines that LTAs will be expected to install bus lanes in areas of high traffic stress, make more existing bus lanes full-time and consider physical changes such as road footprints and installing point closures to private cars to divert through traffic where there is insufficient space for bus lanes.

The Department of Transport will also consult on proposals to reform the Bus Service Operators Grant so that grant funding will only be available to local council transport authorities and operators who are in an ‘Enhanced Partnership’ or where franchising is being actively pursued.

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