SOUTHAMPTON is bucking a national trend for bus travel, with three million more journeys in the city now than there were in 2013, the Echo can reveal.

While the number of bus journeys took a 1.5 per cent dip across England, Southampton saw a near 18 per cent increase between 2016 and 2017.

It means there were more than 21.4 million bus journeys made in the city over that period – the highest figure since at least 2009.

There are also now double the amount of bus journeys made in the city each year compared to neighbouring Portsmouth.

The news has been met positively by bus bosses, civic chiefs and environmental campaigners, who say an increase in public transport use will have a positive impact on the city’s high pollution levels.

Liz Batten, for Clean Air Southampton, said: “I’m extremely pleased and I think this is one of the good news stories of 2017, it really is.

“50 people on a bus means 50 cars of the road.

“It is really obvious that pollution is helped a lot by taking cars of the road and instead going into the city by walking, cycling or taking a bus.

“As a city we are being carefully looked at carefully because we’ve been told to have a Clean Air Zone because our air quality is so poor and so it is good we are showing that we are responding.”

The figures, released by the Department for Transport this month, show a 2.8 million increase in bus journeys in Southampton over the last eight years.

The lowest recorded figure during that period was in 2012/13, when 17.8 million bus journeys were made in the city.

But since then the number of bus journeys has seen an upward trend, peaking at 21.4 million for the most recent figure of 2016/17.

However it is a trend not shared across the country.

The DfT say there were 70 million fewer bus journeys made in England in the year ending March 2017, a 1.5 per cent dip compared with 2015/16.

Despite this, government transport chiefs say there were still 4.44 billion bus journeys made in England in 2016/17 – representing around 60 per cent of all public transport use.

Although Southampton has managed to buck the national trend, it still trails heavily behind leading city for the south east, Brighton.

Andrew Wickham, Bluestar managing director, said: “I’m delighted these new figures from the Department for Transport, which show 84.1 bus journeys per head of the population in the past 12 months, reflect the efforts of our team here.The number is increasing and we’re determined to do even more - working with our partners - to make that figure rise still further over the coming months and years.”

Cabinet member for sustainable living, councillor Chris Hammond added: “This increase in bus journeys is welcome, as it will contribute to improving air quality and cutting harmful emissions.”

The news follows the announcement that Go-Ahead group, owners of Bluestar, has agreed a new 10-year deal to run the city’s Unilink Service.

Meanwhile, competitors First Bus will cut its 12 service in the new year, blaming “declining patronage”.

It will cease on January 20 and is the second service First has cut in the Coxford area in less than six months.