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How can bus companies help save the high street?

National Express West Midlands 'platinum' bus passing Selfridges in Birmingham's Bull Ring shopping centre

How can bus companies help save our struggling high streets through behavioural change and price cutting? National Express thinks it has the answer. It has been reviewing the success of a slash in bus ticket prices around smaller high streets that are struggling against online shopping.

Future Cities Forum first started debating the decline of the British high street last year when Deputy Director of Regeneration at the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government, Rachel Fisher, gave a presentation at our forum in White City, London, and suggested that our 'complex relationship with the car' is one of the key components in frustrating the smooth flow and design of modern day high streets.

Since then our forum has looked at the role of autonomous vehicles, new cycle ways and smart ticketing on buses to help solve the disconnect that people feel around transport when they need to get to work or visit the shops.

The bus operator, National Express has become aware that many of the smaller high streets in the UK need help with affordable public transport, especially those in the Black Country, to the west of Birmingham. It has been attempting to support local shops and businesses by slashing the price of its low fare zone day tickets, covering places such as Sandwell and Dudley, with 4,000 extra bus journeys each day since launching in 2017.

Research by Transport for West Midlands, states that 67% of customers said they were making more journeys as a result of the cheaper tickets and almost two thirds of these journeys were for shopping purposes. Half of these journeys were not being made before, so it is considered that this new action is helping to grow local economies.

Chris Gibbons, Commercial Director at National Express West Midlands said:

'Smaller high streets are facing huge challenges these days. Online shopping and out of town retail destinations make it more challenging for shops to survive, so we want our country customers to stay local.'

Andy Street, the Mayor of the West Midlands has written a 12 page Blueprint for the Modern British Town Centre in which he underlines how important it is that town centres are easy to get to. The former John Lewis Managing Director has also set up the Regional Town Centre Task Force, chaired by HSBC's Jon Bramwell which aims to reverse the fortunes of struggling high streets and town centres. The Combined Authority Mayor commented:

'Good transport links are part of my blueprint to revitalise town centres, which also includes more housing and a revamped business rates system.'

At our September forum, Head of Regeneration at the London Borough of Redbridge, Sharon Strutt took the discussion further on public realm improvements to support the revitalisation of the high street. She said:

'We have invested in the public realm of Ilford town centre and we are moving away from a traditional model of people just coming in to shop then out again, towards making a much more liveable town centre.

'It must have performance spaces, and we have brought in a new market operator who can help make a more flexible set of shopping and social experiences. We are laying the groundwork for a cultural place...Curating the space to attract people to spend time in the centre is crucial. It can't be a place that shuts at 6 pm.'

Future Cities Forum returns to the subject of cultural infrastructure and city centres in its discussion events next year.

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