THE elections to the Senedd in May come at a critical time for the bus industry in Wales.

There’s no doubt that 2020 has been a troubling year for public transport, with strong government guidance warding off all but the most essential travel. However, the bus network has played a vital role in helping those that need to travel to do so.

But now the real challenge is how do we get people back on board buses? How do we ensure that as the economy fires back into action the changes in behaviour that have led people to rely heavily on their car don’t become more entrenched?

In the last Welsh Parliament great strides were made in terms of public transport with a significant uptick in investment in active travel and a whole new rail franchise promising to rewire metros across the nation.

However, the bus network – which with over 100 million journeys per year is Wales’ most used form of public transport, carrying over three times as many passengers as rail – has not received the same attention from government or opposition parties.

While the UK Government has set out an ambitious national bus strategy in England and the Scottish Government has for many years now pushed ahead with significant investment in an ultra-low emission bus fleet, Wales has stood still.

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Wales has challenging targets to decarbonise the economy and public transport by 2050. This means we need incentives for people to leave the car at home and take the bus instead. Bus priority measures – that is bus lanes, traffic signals that let buses jump ahead of congestion and improvements to bus stops are a proven method of making buses more attractive and increasing passenger numbers.

Unfortunately, they’re all too rare in towns and cities across Wales. We need a Bus First investment package, backed up by a dedicated capital budget to make this the norm across the nation.

We also need to see greater collaboration with bus operators to increase investment in ultra-low and zero emission vehicles. The costs of buying electric buses are currently prohibitive, so a Welsh Green Bus Fund should help operators to close the gap.

But it is important to remember that even if the bus fleet was entirely green, it still wouldn’t put us on track to meet our net zero targets.

Committee on Climate Change data suggests we need to see a 50 per cent increase in bus journeys from pre pandemic levels by 2030 to be on track for net zero by 2050.

This is why more bus journeys, rather than just green buses, must be central to Wales decarbonisation agenda.

All of this can be achieved but it has to start with a vision. For that, we should start with a National Bus Strategy for Wales, designed in partnership between the next Welsh Government and bus operators that has the clear intention of growing passenger numbers.

The industry is ready to get going on this as soon as the next government is in place, I hope they are too.