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£106m of bus improvements outlined for across Norfolk

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An overhaul of Norfolk’s bus services has been outlined in a £106 million bid for Government cash, but Labour says the plan lacks ambition.

The Norfolk Bus Service Improvement Plan (BSIP) sets out the council’s aims over the next five years, with simplified ticketing and journey information, fare cuts for under 25s, cleaner, greener buses, and improve accessibility.

Included in the plan is £40 million for a bus priority programme to speed up journeys, £21 million for zero-emissions buses, £21.03 million to deliver “consistent bus network standards”, £11.8 million for better service integration and hubs, including, interchange hubs, bus stop upgrades and three market town bus station upgrades.

Lynx Bus service in King's Lynn. (52757397)
Lynx Bus service in King's Lynn. (52757397)

Norfolk’s BSIP is part of the government’s £3 billion Bus Back Better campaign, which aims to improve services nationwide, creating more joined-up ticketing and a more environmentally-friendly service.

Norfolk County Council, will be asking for the cash from the Department for Transport over five years starting April 2022, including £64 million in the first three years.

This will be matched by £65 million of council and bus operator spending over the same period.

Martin Wilby. (52757406)
Martin Wilby. (52757406)

Norfolk’s aims with the BSIP are to:

Return to 2019-20 passenger levels by March 2023 and then for one per cent growth each year to 2027

Five per cent per year growth over the four years for passengers under 25

Increase customer satisfaction with the service and fairs value for money

More buses with next stop announcements and displays up to 70 per cent by 2025

A more punctual bus service, aiming for 95 per cent of journeys stating on time by 2027

Greener buses with 50 per cent Euro VI or zero-emissions vehicles by 2027 and 90 per cent Euro V, Euro VI or zero emissions

Reduce journey times with location-specific targets while not increasing car journey times

Increase the number of accessible bus stops for people with wheelchairs to 95 per cent by 2027

Increase rural accessibility

More specific details will be released by the council in the future.

Martin Wilby, cabinet member for highways, infrastructure and transport, said: “Public transport is a vital service in our rural county, not only for people to get to school, work, shops and medical appointments, but also key to keeping our market towns and urban centres vibrant and accessible.

“We understand the important role that public transport plays to alleviate social isolation and help towards peoples’ wellbeing, and to assist with our roadmap to net zero.

“We have put this strong, clear and costed plan together which is achievable and designed to set us on the right road to securing the investment that’s needed for better public transport for Norfolk.”

But Emma Corlett, Labour group deputy leader, said: “For a strategy that claims to be ambitious it really isn’t. It’s not ambitious enough to achieve carbon targets through increasing passenger number and electrification, doesn’t address the driver shortages, doesn’t guarantee buses on estates in urban areas, and doesn’t provide compensation when promised services simply don’t show up.”

Ms Corlett said the plans will cost a lot of money for “vague ambitions overstated” branding the Government’s transport funding for Norfolk “dreadful” she said we needed a more compelling case for major bus improvements.

“We’ve seen cuts under cover of Covid, the Norwich Bus Charter being completely ignored and services becoming erratic because of driver shortages.

“It’s quite right there should be public money invested in bus improvements but bus companies must also be held to account for the services they provide.”

Mr Wilby rejected Ms Corlett’s assertions, saying the plans were ambitious, will deliver for the entire county and has the support of all Norfolk bus companies.

What will happen and when?

Zero to Six months - The council plans to start by carrying out a marketing campaign and to create an “identity” for buses, getting people back using the services.

A new fares offer for under 25s, back to bus promotions and contractless on every bus as well as a network review and bus priority studies are also expected.

Six months to end of year three - Priority measures are aimed to be delivered, with improvements to the bus network and ticketing.

This includes “consistent bus network standards” across Norfolk, timetable change dates, improve bus stops standards, and delivering “multi-operator fares” with common zones and fare capping.

NCC’s aim is to allow people to rely less on their cars and will include measures to support “lifestyle choices”.

Years three to five - By the end of year five, NCC wants to roll out infrastructure and new services to “support car-free lifestyle choices” and deliver modern, zero-emissions buses.

NCC hopes to deliver 100 zero-emission buses in Norfolk by 2027.

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