10 June 2021

How local authorities and bus operators can build better Bus Service Improvement Plans

The UK Government's new Bus Back Better strategy requires local authorities and bus operators to work together to produce Bus Service Improvement Plans. Let's take a look at the importance of this strategy and collaborative approach.

The consensus between the Department for Transport, local authorities, and the public is that bus service provision needs to change. There is collective appetite for services that are more reliable, better coordinated, cheaper, and easier to use. Creating that reality is the goal of the Government’s £3 billion Bus Back Better strategy, which poses a fresh challenge for local authorities and bus operators alike.

The need for exceptional planning and communication between local authorities and bus operators lies at the heart of this challenge. In this blog, we’ll explore how authorities can achieve a quick and lasting win in this area.

Why are buses still important?

Covid-19 saw public transport use fall dramatically. That was particularly true of buses — easily replaced by car journeys, bus use declined as people took up walking, cycling, and driving to make their essential trips instead. Indeed, from July to September 2020 bus use fell by 57%, despite the fact that bus companies are supported by significant amounts of Government money.

But despite their fall in popularity, buses remain essential travel for many groups in the community — particularly for people who are older, infirm, or otherwise unable to drive or cycle. And despite declining usage, buses made 4.07 billion journeys in the UK in 2019 to 2020 (more than twice as many as trains).

It’s clear that a focus on improving bus services is essential. The new bus strategy compels local authorities and bus operators to collaborate on creating Bus Service Improvement Plans (BSIPs) that deliver this. Only BSIPs that get approved by Department for Transport will qualify for continued funding, so they are expected to be ambitious.

What are the goals of the new bus strategy, and what do they mean for Local Authorities?


One of the strategy’s central goals is to make buses not only cheaper, safer, and more comprehensive in their services, but also easier to understand and use. Simpler, integrated fares and contactless payment schemes will be essential. Bus information should be shared in ways that are easy to consume for everyone, but particularly the disabled and visually impaired communities. In a population whose age is rising inexorably, these are increasingly significant demographics.

All bus services and routes should have both audible and visible information available to the travelling public, meaning that both bus operators and local authorities have a refreshed responsibility to consider the ways in which they share live data with the public. We’ll talk more about that below.


Then there’s the question of reliability. Bus services are often cancelled, delayed or disrupted due to the challenges of coordination between local authorities and bus operators regarding roadworks, road closures and diversions. This affects public journeys, damaging public confidence and discouraging bus usage.

By working collaboratively, local authorities and bus operators can resolve these issues and provide a more efficient and reliable bus service for the public. Both parties require improved ways of planning and managing bus routes, as well as communicating with one another about changes on the network. The delivery of key bus priority measures by local authorities will be essential to make bus journeys faster, more reliable, and more attractive.

The new UK bus strategy is large and complex. It has broad goals, and demands considerable change — particularly from local authorities, who are being tasked with a substantial set of new responsibilities. The need to join forces with bus operators to create Enhanced Partnerships is novel, demanding new kinds of cooperation between the public and private sectors. That comes with communication and transparency challenges of its own.

So how can local authorities and bus operators work together to succeed?

How local authorities and bus operators can collaborate on BSIPs

To fulfil the goals set out in the UK bus strategy, local authorities and bus operators need to work together in Enhanced Partnerships to produce BSIPs by October 2021. (A few metropolitan authorities may elect to franchise bus services: the objectives and needs, however, remain the same). In these plans, local authorities need to set out how they will achieve their objectives, give detailed delivery plans, set targets for future journey times, and identify where bus priority measures are needed, as well as where traffic management can be improved to benefit buses.

This requires exceptional planning and communication between local authorities and bus operators. Because local authorities will need to change existing traffic management schemes and investment to prioritise buses — on top of the normal changes they make to bus routes — they’ll need to talk to bus operators to inform these decisions, and give the public accurate information about changes to bus routes and disrupted and cancelled services.

This can be done in two ways. The first is the traditional way: manual communication between both parties — emails or calls alerting each other to changes on the road network, one by one, most likely on an as-needed basis.

The second is digitally. Using custom-built online tools, local authorities and bus operators can both create, adjust, and manage their local bus routes in real time, with complete visibility of changes and their effect on traffic flows. That lets them analyse existing routes and build out new ones, identifying where changes are required to speed up service provision and give buses priority on roads.

Tools like one.network’s Route Manager, designed for exactly these purposes, also offer a ‘clash dashboard.’ This lets users view and monitor roadworks and closures currently in place on a live map to understand how and when bus routes may be impacted and disrupted. Users can then create bus diversion routes accordingly, guaranteeing that bus services can run smoothly and efficiently and improving the reliability of bus service for the public (a key goal of the Bus Back Better programme, as we saw above).

When both the local authority and bus operator share a single operational view of bus routes, incidents, and events on the road network, there’s no need for manual coordination or complex comms plans for sharing information with the public: data is pushed automatically to sat-navs, so that both drivers and bus users can adjust their journeys on the go. The map-based interface is also embeddable into any website, meeting the BSIP requirement to improve accessibility and make service information more readily available to the public.

A final perk: local authorities and bus operators can use one.network’s tools to evidence the changes they make to bus services, providing easily accessible proof of their improvements and progress under the new bus strategy.

The Enhanced Partnerships and service improvement requirements set out in the Department for Transport’s bus strategy form a complex and significant demand. Nevertheless, thanks to the emergence of increasingly sophisticated innovations in tech, there are grounds for optimism. With the right tools, local authorities and bus operators can and will be able to collaborate on delivering the goals set out in their BSIPs.

Want to learn more?

Most local authorities in the UK already use one.network to plan, manage and communicate changes to the road network, as do many UK bus operators. In fact, bus operators have spent almost 60,000 hours on the one.network platform so far this year alone.

If you’re a local authority or a bus operator and want to learn how you can use technology like one.network’s Route Manager to meet your improved bus service goals, get in touch. We’ll be happy to show you around.