1.1. Dorset Council’s Bus Service Improvement Plan (BSIP) is a response to the Government’s National Bus Strategy Bus Back Better, aimed at improving bus services across England.

1.2. This BSIP is a strategic document that sets out how the council and local bus operators will work together to improve bus services across Dorset. It will be delivered through an Enhanced Partnership, through which the council will work more closely with local bus operators to plan and deliver services. The Enhanced Partnership will begin in April 2022.

1.3. This BSIP sets out a future bus network the council, in consultation with the public, stakeholders and operators want to see in operation, the requisite actions to be taken to significantly grow bus use and how these actions will be delivered against targets set for 2025 and 2030

1.4. Many of the policies and deliverables will require further consultation. The ambitious plan and deliverables set out are all subject to funding being identified.

1.5. Public transport services in Dorset have been in decline for many years. A recent report on public transport within England and Wales described a number of areas within Dorset as ‘transport deserts’. The term 'transport desert' means the absence of transport choice in England’s small towns (Campaign for Better Transport 2020). It is evident within the county’s geography that having a limited population between principal settlements and no critical mass to provide a robust customer base means operating and planning good/high frequency commercially viable bus services is challenging.

1.6. Dorset is predominately rural in nature and has one of the highest levels of geographical access to services deprivation in the country coupled with an over-reliance on private car use. For those without a car, there are significant challenges to accessing local services, healthcare, work, and education, resulting in rural isolation.

1.7. Dorset’s population is significantly older than the national average. An ageing population presents major challenges with concessionary journeys being higher in Dorset versus the South West average, creating an over-reliance on concessionary income to support services.

1.8. The concessionary fares scheme has brought great benefits for older people, but the council is concerned operator reimbursement in rural areas is inadequate and operators in Dorset are losing out due to exceptionally high demand for concessionary travel. The council needs Government to recognise the significant challenge this poses in Dorset and other rural authorities by reviewing the concessionary travel scheme and making changes to the national policy to ensure it gives a fairer deal in rural areas and supports the delivery of better bus services in Dorset.

1.9. There is limited economic growth in many parts of the county and a strong reliance on tourism. Further growth in tourism to Dorset’s world class natural environment is not sustainable without significant improvements to bus services within the county.

1.10. Road transport is the highest contributor to CO2 emissions in Dorset and car usage across the county has shown no sign of decline over the last 15 years. Getting people out of their cars and onto public transport is one way to reduce our carbon footprint.

1.11. Top priorities for the BSIP amongst the public and stakeholders identified through the engagement activities were additional bus routes, higher frequency, and enhanced weekend services, along with a cheaper and simpler fare structure.

1.12. The BSIP aims and objectives have been shaped by an extensive review of current public transport (bus, rail, and active travel) services in Dorset, the factors affecting these and a comprehensive programme of public and stakeholder engagement to inform our approach. They are as follows;

Spotlight on Dorset’s BSIP aims and objectives

To significantly increase the number of people using local buses across Dorset by increasing local bus service frequencies, extending daily service times, adding additional services to better connect more isolated areas, increase bus reliability and user satisfaction, and meet new opportunities to capture sustainable travel demand.

To increase daily service availability with a mix of fixed and flexible services across rural and urban areas of Dorset, using new techniques in digital demand responsive transport linked to a more frequent core network to ensure that local buses and the wider public transport network is attractive, joined up and easy to use for everyone.

To develop a range of on-demand public transport services delivered by a mix of operators by identifying gaps in the current local bus network, understanding the population’s propensity to travel by different modes and develop a tool kit of options for on-demand transport that focus on improving journey times and access to the core network.

To continue to protect Dorset’s environment by moving to a decarbonised local bus fleet using a decarbonisation plan developed through this BSIP to ensure that we significantly reduce the environmental impact of local buses across Dorset using a progressive and partnership led roadmap with local bus operators.

Create and maintain a comprehensive network of travel options to link up communities and reduce rural isolation, delivered through a significantly expanded network focusing on core and feeder services with modular mobility hubs providing comfortable and safe interchange environments.

The Dorset Council BSIP is an ambitious plan, focused on revitalising the local bus network, halting, and reversing the decline in local bus passenger use, meeting the aspirations set out by the public and key stakeholders through this process, and marking Dorset as a centre of excellence for rural transport provision.

1.13. Measures within this BSIP will support the council’s Local Transport Plan (LTP) policies and the Climate and Ecological Emergency Action Plan, helping to tackle the climate and ecological emergency as well as reducing traffic congestion and improving accessibility for residents and visitors.

1.14. The council has set out an ambitious plan to reverse the decline in bus use, to put the passenger first, to improve rural accessibility and to build confidence in the bus network. Through the implementation of this BSIP, Dorset aims to become an exemplar of Digital DRT and rural public transport accessibility.

1.15. Grouped into 6 themes to reflect public and stakeholder local priorities, and the Government’s aspirations in Bus Back Better, our proposals include:

Theme

Aspiration

Better network coverage and scale

To develop, continually monitor and refine a network of buses that run more often, to more places and for longer daily periods. To deliver this policy a core network of services operating every 30-minutes between hub locations will be developed alongside a feeder service network with fixed and Digital DRT modes being tested and developed over time.

Better integration between modes

To develop and continually pursue opportunities to provide better integration between rail services and all other modes regarding timetable coordination, collective information, and ticketing. Dorset Council will work in partnership with all possible modes from walking and cycling for first and last mile trips to national long-distance networks to always integrate bus services.

Better and clearer information

To develop bus information that is consistent, accessible, simple, clear, and coordinated so that the public has a single source of truth and can confidently plan and undertake connected bus journeys across the local bus network and wider public transport system. Information will be maintained through multiple channels and will be a cornerstone of delivering Bus Back Better.

Better journey time reliability

To deliver bus priority measures that ensure buses leave on time and remain on time while providing faster and more reliable services across the local bus network. Partnership work with local bus operators will identify opportunities alongside close working with planning colleagues to maximise funding opportunities through Section 106 schemes.

Better value and integrated fares

To ensure that simple value fares across a smaller range of products are maintained and key markets are targeted through fares designed to attract and maintain mode shift. A multi-operator EP sub-group to will continually explore options for the roll-out of multi-operator, multi-mode ticketing using appropriate and cost-effective technology and processes.

Better vehicle standards and lower emissions

To deliver a zero-emission bus fleet by 2035 and ensure interim steps to green the existing local bus service fleet through options to renew older buses or upgrade their technology. Work closely with operators to create a Dorset standard configuration and better accommodate cycles on tourist focused services linked to better mobility and MaaS (Mobility as a Service) concepts.

1.16. To meet our aims and objectives for this BSIP the council will deliver in the following key areas:

Theme: Better network coverage and scale

Key deliverables

A minimum 30-minute ‘Superbus’ network by 2023 followed by selective route development to reach ‘turn-up-and-go’ frequencies by 2026 - essential in meeting our ambitious targets for mode shift and increasing the public’s access to employment, health, education, and leisure by sustainable travel.

A guaranteed 7am to 7pm network and night-time buses providing additional late evening journeys until 11pm – essential in meeting our objective to create a network that the public can rely on and use with confidence.

A demand led hub and spoke feeder network becoming a national exemplar for the trial of different Digital DRT solutions, drawing on best practice techniques from the UK and Europe, and leading to a network of semi-fixed and DRT services coordinated with the core bus network.

Introducing ‘Dorset Connect’ - up to 5 Digital DRT services launching in 2022/23 allowing bookings to be accepted up to 60 minutes before travel. With further zones added each year to expand the network, this will meet DfT aspirations for 60-minute rural transport and feed new users into the revitalised Dorset core bus network.         

Theme: Better integration between modes

Key deliverables

Dorset ‘Superstops’ and Mobility Hubs providing interchange and alternative access for modes such as walk, cycle, lift-share, and taxi, supporting first and last mile trip legs. Improving interchanges is key to making our hub and spoke feeder system work seamlessly.

Rail integration within Dorset and across LTA borders, including a flagship project connecting to services on the Heart of Wessex line. The revised core bus network with supporting feeder services will focus on rail connections, hub and spoke bus to bus integration and improved walking and cycling routes to the local bus network.

Theme: Better journey time reliability

Key deliverables

Dorset Greenwaves – high investment end-to-end corridor improvements focusing on vehicles, frequency, passenger facilities, bus priority measures, information, and ticketing to ensure each Dorset ‘Greenwave’ maximises mode shift and passenger growth. Greenway branding and will encourage people to ‘ride the Greenwave’. 

Targeted bus priority improvements, working in partnership with local bus operators, including bus lanes, bus signal priority, bus gates, and parking / loading restrictions. Buses will become faster and more reliable, competing affectively with the car, and driving up further improvements in bus service quality, vehicle standards, and fares.

Theme: Better and clearer information

Key deliverables

A bus stop design guide to set minimum standards for seating, lighting, and accessibility, app-based bus tracking, and real time information roll-out. Investment in bus stops, information, interchange locations, and bus driver training focused on customer wellbeing and accessibility to ensure confidence by users in the network.

A review of existing bus stop information, phased rollout of RTI at major stops, targeted investments based on a bus stop hierarchy, and production of a Dorset-wide all operator and mode network map will all be initial steps in a progressive approach to network information ‘levelling-up’ and a longer-term brand identity.

A new Dorset travel portal, placing public transport information across all modes in one location, and aligned with an app for accessing real time information, bus ticket purchase, and live Digital DRT bookings. This will build user confidence in the network and meet demands set by younger travellers through our engagement process.

Theme: Better value and integrated fares

Key deliverables

Introduction of a Young Person’s 16-25 years old Bus Card, entitling holders to discounted fares on local buses, at all times across Dorset, supporting those in full-time education, training, apprenticeships, and full-time employment, and addressing social isolation issues amongst younger people living in rural communities.

Work with operators to introduce flat fare town zones offering significantly reduced town fares, an all-operator family / group ticket and support network wide fare capping. All operators are committed to this simple approach that will open the bus network to local residents and tourists alike.

Theme: Better vehicle standards and lower emissions

Key deliverables

Work with operators to deliver a decarbonisation programme over 13 years and implement pilot projects for zero emission bus conversion on core, town and Digital DRT services. Our aim is for 60% of all buses used across the network to be net-zero by 2030 and all remaining buses to be Euro VI or better.

Roll-out of 20 zero-emission buses and supporting infrastructure for Weymouth town services, making Weymouth Dorset’s first zero emission bus hub. Future zero emission bus roll out will focus on trial inter-urban routes across the core local bus network, particularly with areas of poor air quality.

We will work collaboratively to achieve a higher standard for buses across Dorset from 2022, focusing on comfort, safety, accessibility, ease of use, and technology including next stop announcements, USBs, Wi-Fi, exploration of on-board bicycle facilities, and potential use of dual-door buses on high volume ‘Greenwave’ corridors.

1.17. Delivering these objectives across the life of the BSIP will require initial investment between 2022 and 2025 of £92 million with further funding required beyond 2025 for some aspects of the BSIP, though with DfT funding programmed to progressively decline.

1.18. Just under half of all funding received will focus on meeting public and stakeholder priorities for more buses, to more locations and operating across more hours alongside additional priorities for lower and simpler fares, faster and more reliable bus services, and greener vehicles.

1.19. Once this investment in the local bus network has halted and reversed the downward trend in bus patronage, the council have longer-term aspirations for bus services across the county, building upon current aims and objectives set out in this plan to deliver continued improvements and transformations in bus service provision.

1.20. To ensure robust and transparent management of DfT funding received, the BSIP will be reviewed annually, and the council will publish 6 monthly progress summaries reporting against the following key performance indicator areas:

  • journey times
  • reliability
  • passenger growth
  • customer satisfaction
  • mode share
  • greening of the local bus fleet
  • increases in network mileage
  • proportion of the population within 400m of a frequent local bus service
  • number of rail connections made by the local bus network

1.21. Therefore, the council is seeking significant Government investment to deliver an ambitious and innovative Plan. Without access to grant funding, Dorset Council would not be able to deliver these actions and innovate our local bus services.

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