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Now's the chance to reverse the fortune of buses

Darren Shirley's picture
Photo: bus passenger

Our new report shows that once again funding for buses has decreased, with 243 services around the country having been lost or reduced in the past year. But next year could be different: with the Government promising a National Bus Strategy and new multi-year funding settlement, there’s a chance to set buses on the road to a brighter future.

As declining funding, service cuts and rising fares have unfolded in recent years, Campaign for Better Transport has led calls for a National Bus Strategy to focus attention on the most-used form of public transport. The Government has listened. Last month it promised a National Bus Strategy to be published in the spring.

Our new report, based on analysis of government datasets, and Freedom of Information requests to all local transport authorities in England, shows that the Strategy will not come a moment too soon. It reveals that funding for buses is almost £400 million a year lower than it was a decade ago, with local authority funding having fallen by £163 million a year and national funding having fallen by £234 million a year in real terms. The result has been that well over 3,000 local authority supported bus services have been lost or reduced in a decade; 243 in the past year alone.

Reductions in funding to support bus services has consequences. It leads to isolation and social exclusion and hinders access to employment, education and training as people find it more difficult and costly to travel. It hampers efforts to tackle air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions and road congestion.

Funding for buses is currently fragmented, short-term and sorely ineffective, as our figures today show. How does it need to change? 

Nationally, buses are funded via the Bus Service Operators Grant (a fuel duty rebate) and the English National Concessionary Travel Scheme (which sees the Government funding journeys made by older and disabled bus pass holders). Both are flawed and have proven insufficient to ensure communities have the bus services they need. 

The current funding regime should be replaced with a single, ring-fenced, long-term framework aimed at growing bus networks and delivering social, economic and environmental benefits. We want to see a thriving, affordable bus network for all users.

We also want to see capital funding to support the transition for the entire bus fleet to zero emission buses. The National Bus Strategy should include a deadline of 2025 for all new buses to be only zero emission (electric or hydrogen), and all buses on the road to be zero emission by 2035. To support this, it should set up a 'fleet and depot transition fund' to get infrastructure in place, and a 'bus manufacturing fund' to help the UK bus industry scale up to build more zero emission buses.

Locally, we think councils should be required to produce Local Bus Investment Plans to help enable a coherent, integrated local network. And new revenue streams for local authorities to support the growth in public transport should be made available, such as Workplace Parking Levies, Clean Air Zones and a pay-as-you-drive road user charge to replace Vehicle Excise Duty and fuel duty

These are just a few of the recommendations outlined in our Future of the bus: future funding arrangements report, which also contains details of how much each English local authority spends on buses - so you can see how your area measures up. The cuts are deeply concerning, but with the right interventions at this crucial time they need not continue: instead bus networks can grow and improve, reconnect communities and clean up our polluted air.