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Great post. I agree that cutting coverage service may sometimes be a valid choice, assuming its agreed to by the city and the consequences are understood, but it's vital that those trade-offs be clearly outlined. I'm sure there were some who lost out thanks to Aesch's service decisions, and to just focus on the positive ignores the voices of those people. It also glosses over the political difficulty that usually accompanies such decisions, which I'm sure even Buffalo had to deal with.


In the article, Aesch clearly distinguishes between routes that he kept because they had good ridership and farebox recovery, and routes that he ALSO kept because they had decent ridership in spite of poor farebox recovery (presumably long and thus more expensive to run).

I just don't understand who is being harmed by cutting routes that literally no one is using. "I want it there because some imaginary neighbor might need it sometime" is not serving any actual social purpose; that is symbolic transit.



I'm quite sure that no agency runs service used by literally no one. Rather, some services have a small number of riders to whom the service may be very important, and may lack alternatives.

Dexter Wong

Very good column on this subject. Too many people only think about how much money public transit costs them in terms of taxes and not in terms of how it serves people. Would it be possible for me to submit this column to my local newspaper as a guest editorial under your byline? I think it could do some good.


@Zoltan, I was recently reading through reports that RIPTA (the Rhode Island bus agency) did on all their routes to identify ways to improve service, and while there weren't really any routes that nobody rode, there were plenty of examples of deviations or route variants where the average ridership was zero (or single digits) per day for the deviated segment, and its only effective purpose was delaying everyone else on that bus.

Robert Wightman

Interesting article; I agree that there are too many institutions that build in locations that are not served easily by public transit then expect the buses to be diverted to serve them. This is o.k. if it is a major destination such as a good size college but to divert all the passengers so a few can be better served is a dis-service to the majority. This is one problem that does not occur with rail lines.


@Zoltán, Seattle's King County Metro is notorious for wasting precious urban service hours on milk runs and winding tails with median riderships of zero and total daily riderships that you could count on the fingers of one hand.

If a social service agency misguidedly decides to go to bat for a route -- if more people testify on its behalf than have ever used it, and even if the route is nearly or entirely redundant with better core services -- that route will be almost impossible to eliminate.

Again, this is symbolic transit. No genuine social service need is being met by this cavalcade of empty buses.

Josh F.

@d.p., I'm assuming that what you're referencing in your second paragraph is King County Metro's Route 42, which completely duplicates other frequent transit services. I would agree with you that routes like this serve no genuine social service need because eliminating that route would not eliminate anyone's mobility. I'm perfectly fine with cutting a route whose only purpose is to save someone from walking 3 blocks or making a frequent connection--if someone is unable to do that, then they are probably best served by paratransit.

However, I would argue that a low ridership coverage route is worth keeping if there are people who truly depend on it. For example, consider these two hypothetical routes:

-Route A: 5,000 riders per day, but runs within a few blocks of frequent services for the entire route. Without this route, these riders would have to walk a few extra blocks for frequent service.
-Route B: 500 riders a day, but these riders originate in areas without other transit services, and have no alternatives. Without Route B, most of these riders would be completely unable to get to work, school, or other destinations without having to walk very long distances in potentially hilly terrain and bad weather.

Even though Route A is far more productive, in my view the severity of needs is crucial to consider. In this case I would be far more comfortable cutting Route A. Therefore, focusing on only sheer ridership or farebox recovery, as Aesch does, can be misguided if you consider providing mobility to those without other alternatives an important purpose of transit.

(If the ridership of that segment is literally in the single digits, doing some sort of demand-response service might even be more cost-effective. But that does not mean that we can completely deny mobility to anyone who cannot drive a car, even if they depend on routes with lower ridership.)



My second paragraph did indeed refer to the 42, which required three years, a drawn-out and expensive survey process, and multiple council hearings to eliminate -- despite the fact the exactly no one ever rode the thing.

The comparison you make may be valid for ex-urban coverage spindles with no remotely close alternative (though your "500 riders" estimate is generous). But King County Metro is a system that separately and closely tracks its urban expenditures, and which provides notoriously terrible service for basic urban journeys.

There is no excuse for setting fire to those urban dollars by running two buses around an empty 61 loop all day and night, by keeping the 24 zig-zagging on a multi-mile tail that has essentially never boarded a rider, by keeping the 25, the 26, and the 4 circling around unchanged.

An empty, redundant bus serves no purpose. Frankly, an empty bus anywhere serves no purpose.

As we speak, thousands of routes are running around this country that don't achieve 1/20 of your "500 riders/day" hypothetical. Other riders are paying exorbitant fares to support them. Who does this benefit?

Ross Williams

I think the usual approach to ridership generation is to measure boardings. But I think boardings only roughly measure the value of a route to a transit system. There are three issues with that measure:

Imagine a transit line where 10 people board a high ridership line and travel downtown where they each transfer to a low ridership line. Those 10 low ridership lines are actually generating the ridership. The heavily used line wouldn't have those 10 passengers at all without them.

The second problem is that whether someone makes uses of transit is not just a choice about an individual trip. Transit is a life-style choice. The fewer destinations a system serves, the less it is relied on. There is a big difference between asking "how" to get somewhere and "whether" you can get there at all. That is the reason we don't usually close little used streets.

Finally, I think the fundamental problem for transit is that it misidentifies its customers. People tend define riders as transit customers, tie revenue generation to the passenger and measure their service by the number of passengers served. But the real customers are the destinations of those passengers. That destination may be their work place in the morning and their home in the evening. But in both cases, we need to structure transit funding to recover some of the value that those destinations get from transit service.

Andre Lot

I think that conflicts over streamlining of the transit route network (when you don't cut whole areas out of it) are usually born as proxies for other problems.

The most obvious case are cities that maintain circuitous routes with plenty of overlapping due to lack of free transfers. Los Angeles was a good case of that with its insane and asinine bus route design aiming to offer as much "one-seat-ride" as possible, even if it meant bad schedule of the overall network.

Ben Broesamle

At some point economics do matter, but running transit like a business is only great until you find out it's the transit service from your home to your office that will be cut next. That being said, it's interesting that Aesch was able to stand up to the other agencies dumping their problems on his.

Jeffrey Jakucyk

Ross makes a good point that the low-ridership lines in many cases support the high-ridership ones. It's similar to the owl service issue. While those late night runs are rarely well-used, if they aren't there for someone to depend on, then that person's daytime peak trip is usually lost as well.

Of course figuring out exactly who's going where and why and when it quite difficult, but there's definitely "network effects" in play whereby those services that appear to be money-losers by themselves are supporting the major trunk lines. Having completely circuitous zig-zagging routes is something of a different animal, but in any event they can't be viewed in isolation from the rest of the system.

Pete Brown

The UK approach is to most definitely consider local public transport as a business (the public doesn't necessarily see it like that though). The logic behind deregulation was that entrepreneurial bus professionals, freed from the shackles of government control would apply the profit generating discipline to ensure buses served the places the customer wanted to go. We thus have comprehensive urban bus networks that are funded entirely from fare revenue plus the national fuel duty rebate known as Bus Service Operators Grant (BSOG).

What is referred to in the US as 'coverage service' is put out to competitive tender by local transport authorities (usually the local council or Passenger Transport Executive). Coverage service can also include extending the operating hours of a commercial service.

Here is a link to the Route 1 timetable from First Bristol. This is a major cross-city route, the journeys that are supported by Bristol City Council are denoted as '£', and consist of three outbound and two inbound evening journeys:


First Bristol's commercial bus network:


To work out where to board or alight in the city centre you need to refer to:



Unfortunately, Ross and Jeffrey, the practical upshot of your way of thinking is that frequency and span on the entire network, including the most effective core services, take crippling hits as a result of well-meaning efforts to maintain nominal access for extreme edge cases.

If the choice comes down to one rider not being able to use the system because their coverage route becomes less accessible, or fifty riders not bothering with the core routes because the buses bunch terribly in the daytime and the frequency goes to pot at 8pm, I'm going to side with the needs of the fifty riders.

I'm not arguing that coverage routes should cease to play any role in the building of a comprehensive network over a reasonable area. But your kneejerk defense of those extreme edge cases doesn't stand up to scrutiny. There is no "network effect" value to a route nobody uses.


Often times, the reason for these routes is political or financial. TriMet's tax boundaries, for instance, include roughly a 2 mile radius from any place where there's bus service (roughly), so running pro-forma transit to the boonies can sometimes help with revenue, particularly if there are things like farm payrolls to be taxed. And while TriMet covers MOST of the Portland metropolitan area (excluding Washington State, where the state line essentially requires a separate agency, C-TRAN, north of the Columbia), the major exception is Wilsonville--a job-rich (and thus payroll-tax rich) suburb that withdrew from TriMet a few decades back, because "their" tax dollars were largely being used to subsidize service elsewhere in the metro area. (In defense of Wilsonville, TriMet was running low-frequency commuter service to the city, and not much else; now Wilsonville has several free all-day circulators within its boundaries). But getting to or from Wilsonville on transit can be a challenge, simply due to the transfers involved.

Since then, TriMet gets skittish whenever a high-value suburb starts making noise about insufficient service. (Which is better, I guess, than suburbs which regard the bus as a public nuisance rather than a public good...)


I'll make a slightly off-target comment.

My small-town system, faced with ever-dwindling state & federal money, slashed coverage service. Well, what were they going to do?

They're funded by three major sources: the city, the county, and the local universities.

Where did they slash first? *The routes which crossed the county border*. Nobody outside the county pays taxes into the system.
Where did they slash second? *The routes which go off into the county*. The county is the sole funder which cares about these.

The routes through the universities are currently being threatened because the universities are not paying up.

The city routes are not going anywhere because they are in fact desired by all three funders.

If you think politically, this was the only possible conclusion.

Now, other areas don't have such obvious political boundaries. And as such, I would expect Los Angeles to overemphasize service to the more rural areas *within the City of Los Angeles*, for example.

One of the things which happened in Rochester was the termination of all services which supported trips beyond the Rochester border. This is not a coincidence.


I like your terminology for low ridership lines as 'coverage' which is exactly what they are.

And no, transit should not be run like a for profit business, that's why its non profit

Ross Williams

"the practical upshot of your way of thinking is that frequency and span on the entire network, including the most effective core services, take crippling hits as a result of well-meaning efforts to maintain nominal access for extreme edge cases."

Not necessarily. But the practical upshot of your way of thinking is that you have a dwindling number of destinations and people who have a stake in the quality of the transit system. Eventually it ends up a welfare service with equally crappy service for everyone, but used only by those with no alternative.


I respect your conviction, but I deeply disagree. And the experience of my supposedly "pro-transit" city backs me up.

What Seattle has, as a result of your precise way of thinking, is a bus system that is neither remotely time- or price-competitive for anyone not commuting to downtown Seattle on a 9-to-5 schedule.

As a result, transit maintains a mere 19% city-wide modeshare for commutes and a less-than-9% modeshare for non-commute trips. Again, that is within city limits, in a city generally considered to favor transit electorally.

The vast majority is avoiding transit like the plague, and with trips between high-demand destinations requiring as much as 7x the time allotment of driving (thanks to infrequency, unreliability, slow speed, indirect routing, and transfer penalties), who can blame them?

That is a system that is failing, in part due to resources wasted on illusions-of-coverage routes used by absolutely no one.

If you can't even serve the important destinations well, who will bother riding your services to the fringes? "Network effects" require a net that works.

Ross Williams


I don't know that much about Seattle's transit system. But if people are "avoiding transit like the plague", I doubt its because of problems created by serving too many destinations. Bunched up buses are annoying. But I think they are usually an indication of good service, rather than bad service.

"Network effects" require a net that works."

I agree. But if you only serve connections between a few very popular destinations then you don't have a net at all.


Seattle has a large and expensive bus system. This isn't Houston: it doesn't perceive itself as the mode of last resort, and at its size, fare, and cost to taxpayers it shouldn't be.

But thanks to following your prescription, that's essentially what it is!

Dozens of routes zig-zag around the city proper alone, following grandfathered-in detours and weird redundancies, running at 15 minutes at the very best, 30 minutes everywhere else, and worse in the evening on even the most crucial routes. Routes sometimes run two blocks from one another, uncoordinated and useless for spontaneous travel or multi-leg journeys. And yes, some routes snake into sprawling corners or serve liminal areas where their cumulative boardings approach zero.

Failure to concentrate on making core services work, and redefining "frequent" to an unworkably low standard in order to waste dollars on "coverage" that has proven undesired (through emptiness), is indeed the problem with transit in Seattle. Raising fares to highest-in-the-nation levels for such substandard service has compounded that problem. And requesting perpetual emergency infusions of revenue to maintain this failing service has brought the agency to crisis after predictable crisis.

"Jack of all trades, master of none."
"Screw it, I'll just drive my car."

Andre Lot

I think there is a clear distinction between two different issues:

(1) lower patronage services that are effective network feeders

(2) inefficient routes/services that detract from network cohesion and efficiency

As buses use road infrastructure already present, it is very tempting for transit managers to engage in (2). Particularly in US, there is this obsession with one-seat rides and all sorts of gimmicks for transfers.

I understand and up to a point accept the logic of "coverage service" if it is meant to pull people from its catchment area and feed them into some major frequent service (be it rail, trams, buses...)

What I cannot accept is the idea we need the "LA Bus Riders Union" paradigm: as much one-seat rides as possible, damned be travel times, God forbids one has to transfer.

If we pull a map of bus networks of large American cities, we'll easily see the mesh of thinned-out routes running on parallel streets (on grid-based cities) and stopping as closely spaced as possible. It would be much better to consolidate routes and services in places like Seattle, San Francisco, Denver, Atlanta.


Precisely, Andre!


It seems to me that part of the problem is that transit is a one-vehicle-fits-all proposition. Generally, if you're changing vehicles, you're changing modes. But running a full-size bus on a low ridership route seems wasteful. Suppose the vehicles used in a bus system were geared to observed ridership, or could even be switched on or off routes as needed, such as at rush hour or late at night. I think that could be good for coverage and budgets/

Ross Williams

@ Matt

The problem is that vehicle size has little to do with operating costs. No matter what its capacity, you still need to pay a driver. I suspect there are often more added costs to maintaining various sized fleets of vehicles than savings in the purchase price and operating costs of a smaller vehicle.

@ d.p.

"Dozens of routes zig-zag around the city proper alone, following grandfathered-in detours and weird redundancies ..."

Poorly designed routes are an entirely different problem than low ridership. You can have poorly designed routes that have plenty of riders. You just confirmed what I expressed above, "I doubt its because of problems created by serving too many destinations."

I would also point out that not every trip/destination is of equal value. If I depend on the transit service to get me to the doctor, it doesn't really matter whether I only need to go when I am sick. Looking at boardings confuses infrequent use with unimportant use. They aren't the same thing.


A healthy transit system is designed such that routes can effectively serve more than just a single, occasional purpose. The infrequent trips that you correctly consider important are thus able to constitute real ridership in the aggregate.

If your hypothetical route can serve only one particular trip, and that trip is exceedingly rare, then I'm sorry, but it is not a good candidate for full-time, fixed-route service.

You continue to privilege hypothetical edge cases over proven needs. You zoom out the map, throw a dart, and claim that "what if I want or need to go there?" should outweigh all other transit functions within the same area. You willingly harm the very real many for an imagined few.

And you claim that serving more zero-demand "destinations", no matter how poorly, will add value to the system. History proves you incorrect. Your model is how systems spiral into uselessness and irrelevance for all but the most desperate. And thin, terrible transit harms the transit-dependent (for whom you claim to advocate) more than it harms those with other options.

Ross Williams

"you claim that serving more zero-demand "destinations""

I haven't said anything at all about "zero-demand" destinations. What I have suggested is that boardings are a lousy way to measure the importance some transit service.

"Your model is how systems spiral into uselessness and irrelevance for all but the most desperate. "

Actually, history says the opposite. Transit systems that continuously shrink to fewer and fewer destinations with teh most boardings eventually become welfare services used only by those with no choice. In fact, its exactly that process that lead to the historic deterioration of bus systems in many large cities. Its the reason we have cities designed to serve the auto-dependent.


I'm sorry, but you are simply wrong.

North America is littered with transit systems that allow you to nominally get anywhere, but whose every trip is an arduous time-suck. These are the cities where transit and transit users are dismissed, looked down upon, ignored, pitied.

In fact, I challenge you to name me a major autocentric North American city that has ever skimped on coverage in the way you insinuate. The story of 20th-century American transit is one of declining frequency, diminished all-day core service, and a headlong slide into last-resort irrelevance. The rare success stories -- Boston, D.C., Vancouver, Portland 1982-2009, very recent Los Angeles -- have all focused on maintaining and improving their core networks, even at the expense of the type of spindly coverage you insist is paramount.

And yet again, boardings are by definition a valid metric for comparative importance. A route with 50x the demand is clearly far more important. A route whose boardings improve when it is streamlined or better integrated into the network is proving more important that it had been before. A route that is never used is revealing that it isn't important to anyone.

Ross Williams

"A route with 50x the demand is clearly far more important."

Boardings don't really measure demand except indirectly. You are confusing cause and effect. A route with 50x as many passengers very likely serves many more valuable destinations that create demand. If those same destinations were served by a different alternative the route would have no demand.

Passenger boardings are a result of route design. If you design routes to channel people onto a few routes, then those routes will have a lot of boardings. If you design a network that requires a lot of transfers, you will have a lot of boardings. But what makes a route "important" is the destinations it serves. The destinations those main routes are actually serving just bus stops.

I think the problem here may be that you are confusing mobility with access. I take the bus to get access to the places I am going.

Edson L.  Tennyson

The comments are far too bus oriented. Urban buses now move less than half of urban transit passenger-miles. Rail transit now exceeds bus transit in passenger-miles but not passengers. We need both sets of data. Boardings for individual vehicle trips and passen- ger-miles for area wide success.
Take Portland OR mentioned in these discussions. in 1982 Portland had only 180 million annual passenger-miles all on buses. In 2011, they had 220 million annual passenger- miles on buses plus 222 million more on rail. That is what has made Portland Tri-Met what it is. It speeded up service and cut cost and brought more riders. 222 million annual rail passenger-miles cost only half what 220 million annual bus passenger-miles cost. That benefits taxpayers so much they fork over the capital to improve the system. Over the past 30 years there has been no increase in urban bus passenger-miles but Rapid Rail is up 65 % Regional (commuter) rail is up 70 % and Light Rail is up over 300 % starting from a low base. DOUBLING RIDERSHIP AT LOWER COST IS WHAT MATTERS.


Agreed, Ross.

But semantics don't change facts: an empty bus is clearly not needed for access. If it were, it wouldn't be empty.

Charles Walker

As a former employee of the RGRTA (the agency led by Mr. Aesch), I can say that very few riders lost all transit service options because of the cuts. Many cuts were to very early AM, midday or evening services, where spreading headways resulted in greater efficiency. Unused/underused route deviations were eliminated and some longer routes were shortened, because few riders were served by the farthest reaches of the route. In all cases, cuts were preceded by a detailed analysis of revenue & ridership conducted by the service evaluation staff. This process identified a lot of "low-hanging fruit"; small cuts to individual routes that when added together, produced significant savings.

R. W. Rynerson

Interesting discussion. I've found myself on both sides of the issue, as a customer and in the profession.

When the 1983 energy crash hit Edmonton Transit, we were sternly ordered to "cut service like private businesses" were doing. One of the worst performing routes served a cancer clinic. Transit planners around the world can guess correctly that it was located in a beautiful, cul=de=sac setting, requiring either an awful deviation or a separate route. You can also guess what happened when we discontinued the service, along with several low ridership routes that mainly catered to seniors -- who rode free! We were told to put the service back on, in spite of the mediocre farebox contents.

One good side effect was a compromise that led to seniors paying a modest fare. It took much longer to recover from the damage done when City Council then mandated that to preserve coverage all routes -- including the growing LRT line -- must suffer service cuts in order to be "fair." It was painfully interesting to be Marketing Officer through each extreme policy change, within only a period of four years.


An important post, Jarrett.

@ Pete Brown, while Bristol may enjoy some profitable bus routes, here is another take on the privatization of public transport (namely rail) in the UK by Stephen Rees, a former consultant in the London transportation management system, and now retired from several years with Vancouver's TransLink and the British Columbia Ministry of Transportation:

I have often used British Rail ... as an example of what can go wrong when governments decide to privatize a pubic corporation. It has long been a shibboleth that the public sector is necessarily inefficient, and that private enterprise, subject to market forces, will always produce a better outcome. The real question – often never asked – is “better for whom?”


In my view, the role of public transit has become too important in the context of the emerging challenges of fossil fuel depletion and climate change mitigation and adaptation to distinguish it as anything else but a vital public service.


Public transit as a vital public service, of course, relates more importantly to helping foster and frequently service urban areas that would benefit the most. That is, the compact inner city and the first few suburban rings before the low density peripheries.

The urbanism of Bristol and London are substantially different than newer North American cities, and are arguably far more efficiently served generally with public services like transit.


Here's a link directly to the University of Manchester's Centre for Research on Socio-economic Change report:


The report was funded by labour unions who were seemingly unnecessarily targeted by Thatcher back in the day, but the figures in the report are there for analysis and to guage the author's academic objectivity.

Pete Brown

@MB, actually the bulk of Bristol's bus routes (as in most UK medium to large urban areas) are profitable, I think I once read that 90% of UK bus mileage (excluding London and Ulster) is operated commercially. Urban geography is obviously a factor, UK suburban population densities are generally higher than the US, but less than the European norm. Also, UK urban geography still tends to favour dominant town/city centres with radial routes, although in many places decades of planning policies favouring car ownership and use have eroded that, such that there are peripheral business parks, health facilities, and retail centres that are sometimes not easy for our bus companies to serve commercially. We are currently facing major challenges to the traditional town centre High Street as retailers are affected by internet shopping and out of town shopping malls.

Bristol has a large out of town mall called Cribbs Causeway located north of the city near a major motorway interchange. However it has a large bus station and First Bristol serves it with several routes, including service 1 that I mentioned earlier. In contrast, the city of Nottingham has not permitted such developments, preferring to support a vibrant city centre retail activity by working in partnership with bus operators implementing pro bus policies. It also helps that the city council owns Nottingham City Transport. I should point out that at deregulation all municipal bus operations had to become stand alone commercially operated companies free from day to day control by their owning authorities, but this makes partnership arrangements much easier than say for Bristol, who's dominant bus company is First, a multi national transport group who's HQ is far away in Aberdeen, Scotland! Under this set up it is not unknown for a partnership arrangement to involve a local authority providing bus lanes and raised boarder bus stops while the bus company will introduce a new fleet of buses, only for those buses to be transferred to another city a few years later. I'm not saying that running bus services as a business is the golden solution, but it is an alternative to spending scarce local taxes on services no one uses. Prior to deregulation the situation was one of a relentless upward trend in blanket subsidies without accountability, but declining ridership. Post deregulation in some areas we have rising ridership and some very innovative companies. We also have some mediocre companies, and some awful ones, not that difference from the regulated era really, and the beauty as far as politicians are concerned is that the bulk of this is provided by the free market.

Concerning rail privatisation, this is a completely different set up, what we have here is almost like how Transport for London manages buses. Basically the government goes out to tender for route franchises. The franchises closely stipulate service levels, and uses a system of bonuses and penalties to encourage compliance. Rail is largely used by the middle classes who are much more organised and vocal and know how to mobilise. Closure of rail service = electoral backlash, and is therefore protected by a statutory process requiring approval by the Secretary of State for Transport in Parliament. Commercial bus routes on the other hand can be withdrawn with 60 days notice and no consultation is required. Usually the local authority steps in and puts out a tender to secure a replacement, but massive cuts in public sector budgets has recently seen complete withdrawal of tendered bus services in some areas.

Ian J

For a balanced view of the effects of bus deregulation in the UK see here:


Key points from the report:
"• Public spending on bus services was reduced, although in recent years it has risen again;
• The decline in passengers continued unabated; it has only been halted in recent years as a result of broader transport policy initiatives; and
• Business opportunities for bus companies were created, and many new businesses were started. However, few of these lasted very long – most were either purchased by larger
companies, or failed. Bus operation in the UK is now dominated by relatively few large groups, who tend not to compete with each other."

Most noticeable is that ridership in London, which was not deregulated, has increased substantially while ridership in large cities outside London, which were deregulated, has halved since deregulation.

Pete Brown

Very interesting paper Ian, whether the bus industry would have fared any better had it remained regulated is the great unknown. The large northern cities have lost ridership since deregulation, but this may in part be because the Passenger Transport Executives never 'got over' the loss of their directly operated bus fleets. Relationships between these authorities and the big bus groups has not always been harmonious and as a result partnerships and innovation has not always been easy. At the current time the Tyne and Wear Integrated Transport Authority is about to instruct its Executive (the PTE) to start a consultation on establishing a Quality Contract scheme, where the PTE would take control of the deregulated bus network and put it out to tender. The urban network here is operated by Stagecoach (the eventual successor to the former PTE owned network), Arriva, and Go Northeast (Go-Ahead Group).

Big battles ahead here:


In contrast Brighton & Hove on the south coast eventually sold its municipal arms length operation to Brighton & Hove Buses (owned by the Go-Ahead Group, see above). Here a sustained amicable partnership between local government and the bus company has generated sustained growth:


Oxford has also seen sustained growth in bus use since deregulation again due to long term pro-bus policies from the local government. Here until very recently there was sustained competition between two evenly matched companies as the legislation intended (in this case Stagecoach and Oxford Bus Co - Go-Ahead Group again. This contributed to growing the market on the high frequency corridors and was only curtailed when the local government wanted to increase the pedestrianised area in the historic city centre, which would have concentrated bus movements onto remaining central streets in an unsustainable way. The result was Oxford Smartzone - a jointly operated network serving the high frequency corridors.


The success of Brighton and Oxford are due to a combination of factors, the failures elsewhere will be due to less favourable factors. Bus company business models, local politics, national government planning and land use policies, local demographics, local geography, living standards, subsidies for the motor manufactures, the falling cost of private motoring in real terms compared to the rise in public transport fares etc.

Regarding London, bus ridership growth has also been massively boosted by population growth. There has been an informative BBC TV documentary series on London's buses recently, you can still catch it on the iPlayer, but it won't be available much longer:


I think I'm agnostic at the moment concerning UK bus deregulation vs regulation. I can sympathise with the Tyne and Wear ITA as it has to deal with three separate bus networks on its patch, while I admire what's been achieved in Brighton and Oxford. Perhaps the solution is a pragmatic 'horses for courses' approach and transport policy should be devolved to the English regions who can adopt the model that works for them (Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland have their own jurisdictions).

Ian J

I think the fact that nowhere else has imitated the British deregulation model, that the anticipated second stage of deregulation (extending it to London) was quietly dropped, and that many places in the the UK itself are reregulating, is evidence enough that deregulation was a failure. The only supporters of the status quo are the bus companies themselves and their chequebooks. Interesting that the Scottish National Party dropped their commitment to reregulation one month after Stagecoach's Brian Souter made a large donation to them.

Pete B

Yes, this is the ultimate test, nowhere else in the developed world has copied UK deregulation. I wouldn't say that 'many areas' are re-regulating as yet. Most are opting for voluntary partnerships at the moment. The Tyne and Wear plans will be watched closely as a test case.

Another factor that differentiates the UK from Europe is that due to our inability to do integrated transport, there has always been a comprehensive inter urban and rural bus network. Post Beeching, when the national rail network was decimated in the 1960s this left buses as the only public transport mode on many busy trunk corridors. In Europe buses have tended to perform as rail feeders.

Buses are still the primary mode of public transport accounting for more passenger trips than the entire national rail network and London Underground.


Interesting article on the Omnibuses Blog regarding the New Bus for London (NB4L) AKA 'The BorisMaster' and the case for deregulation vs regulation in London.


Regarding low use coverage service in minor US cities, would a demand responsive service not be more economical? Something like Rimouski Taxibus in Canada:


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