Shop closures and city centre living blamed for less people on the buses

By Hull Daily Mail | Posted: 3 Aug 2018

A BOSS at one of Hull’s main bus companies says the closure of city centre shops is one of the major factors behind the decline in bus use. 

The number of bus journeys in Hull has decreased dramatically in the past eight years, with 4.6 million fewer journeys taking place last year than in 2010.

According to Department for Transport figures, bus use in Hull dropped from 26.1 million journeys in 2009-10 to 21.5m in 2016-2017 - a reduction of almost 18 per cent in less than a decade.

Bob Rackley, commercial manager at East Yorkshire Motor Services, one of Hull’s premier bus providers, said the closure of city centre shops meant fewer shoppers and staff were using buses.

A host of major and independent shops have ceased trading in recent months, with House of Fraser, Poundworld, Grainger Games and Kapow Gifts in Whitefriargate the latest casualties.

High street retailers have struggled to recover since the 2008 recession, with shoppers moving towards online shopping.

Bob Rackley.

“The general state of the economy and reduction in city centre employment has been a problem,” said Mr Rackley. “There are far fewer people working in the city centre nowadays. The police moved out of its Queens Gardens HQ, there are less council jobs and major department stores have closed.

“When Comet closed, it had 300 staff working there. All those people tend to be the people that catch buses. Business was much better when there was the focus on the city centre location.”

Mr Rackley, who has worked for EYMS for 23 years, said out-of-town developments were also affecting bus numbers, with an increasing amount of businesses moving out to Bridgehead business park, next to the Humber Bridge, making the city centre less of a popular destination.

He said other factors behind the decline included the growing popularity of city centre living, which meant fewer people were commuting, and the eligibility age for a concessionary travel card being raised from 60 to 65 in recent years.

Stagecoach, which operates 60 per cent of Hull’s bus routes, said the industry faced a “changing and challenging environment” and blamed the city’s gridlocked roads for the fall in bus use.

Dave Skepper, commercial director for Stagecoach East Midlands, said: “Research last year found Hull was the eighth most congested city in the UK. Traffic congestion pushes fares up, slows down journeys and undermines the attractiveness of bus travel.

Dave Skepper.

“We urgently need our local authority partners to tackle the  serious issue of car congestion and put in place more pro-bus policies to help the bus network across our region, including Hull, to flourish in the future.”

The Stagecoach boss said there had been “reduced public sector investment in bus services” in Hull, quoting figures from the Campaign for Better Transport, which said public spending on buses in Hull was cut by more than 70 per cent between 2010 and 2018.

Both Stagecoach and EYMS said they were making improvements to their services, including upgrading their buses, introducing apps with real-time information and installing wi-fi on some routes.

The issue of declining bus use is not isolated to Hull, with bus travel falling by 40 per cent in some areas of England. MPs on the transport committee are due to investigate the situation after calling for evidence last month.

Hull City Council said it had brought in measures to improve congestion and encourage people to take the bus.

These included installing bus lane cameras to “give buses priority along major corridors” in a bid to “improve punctuality, especially during peak periods”.

An integrated ticketing system, the Hull Card, has also been introduced to offer passengers a saving of 40 per cent a year, while a youth travel card offers an £11-a-week fare for those aged 19 and under.

Changes to the junctions on  Stoneferry Road would also ease congestion in the long-term, said the city council.

“We understand that transport connectivity is crucial for our city’s economic growth,” said a Guildhall spokeswoman, “and by encouraging even just five per cent of motorists to choose a more sustainable form of transport, there would be a   significant reduction in congestion levels.”

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