Bus fares in many places across England will be capped at £2 for the winter under a government-backed campaign to encourage people back on to public transport.
Single fares on most major operators’ services will be limited from January until March under the scheme.
The Department for Transport said its £60m subsidy would save almost a third of the ticket price for the average journey and cut emissions and congestion by taking an estimated 2m cars off the roads.
Campaigners welcomed the move, although it falls short of radical moves across Europe to slash fares and reinvigorate public transport use after the pandemic.
More than 130 bus operators have signed up, including National Express and Stagecoach, while Go-Ahead said the promotion – branded “Get Around for £2” – would save passengers more than 75% of the fare on some routes in Yorkshire.
Graham Vidler, the chief executive of the Confederation of Passenger Transport representing bus operators, said: “Travelling for £2 on the bus both helps customers facing rising cost challenges and try a new travel option.”
A £2 cap already exists in Greater Manchester, Liverpool and West Yorkshire, under schemes introduced by metro mayors in those areas. Single fares on buses in London are £1.65.
The DfT said the cap would help the industry recover from the pandemic – which accelerated the decline in local services of the last decade, when a quarter of routes were lost.
Cash-strapped councils have no longer been able to subsidise many services and, while the government has pledged £3bn to improve buses under a long-awaited national strategy, much was swallowed up by emergency funding to sustain operations as passengers stayed away during the pandemic.
The buses minister, Richard Holden, said: “The scheme will also take 2m car journeys off the road and it’s fantastic to see so many bus operators signing up.”
A similar bus fares pilot scheme, backed by £23.5m of government funding launched in Cornwall, has brought a significant increase in passenger numbers, the DfT said.
Campaigners urged the government to extend the scheme. Norman Baker, from Campaign for Better Transport, said: “It’s such a win-win that it shouldn’t be restricted to three months, but should be extended indefinitely, for the sake of our pockets, our economy and our environment.”