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New research reveals bus funding crisis and networks at risk of collapse

10 December 2013
New research shows how entire networks of bus services are at risk of collapse. The report ‘‘Buses in crisis’ by Campaign for Better Transport shows 47 per cent of local authorities reducing their support for buses for 2013 with a number threatening to remove all support in the next financial year.

Martin Abrams, Public Transport Campaigner, Campaign for Better Transport said

“Cuts to bus services are now reaching critical levels. We have seen services lost year on year and with further deep cuts planned next year, some authorities may stop supporting buses altogether. This is a watershed moment. If Government doesn’t take action to help support buses we will see whole networks disappear.”

Key findings from ‘Buses in Crisis’ include:

 

  • In the last year there have been £17m of cuts in the budget for support buses in England. Plans for cuts of £48m have already been announced for future years, with the likelihood of more to come
  • Counties making year on year cuts of over 10 per cent to support for buses include Shropshire, Hertfordshire, Cambridgeshire, West Berkshire, Hampshire, Surrey, West Sussex, Wiltshire, Dorset and Gloucestershire
  • 47 per cent of local authorities have reduced their spend on supported bus provision this year
  • Southend, Darlington and Hartlepool have become the first 3 local authorities to no longer support any bus services

The research makes clear that 2014-15 will be a very difficult year for bus services. This year, many local authorities have deferred any cuts to 2014-15 to allow for the legal process of public consultations to be carried out. There are many reports of local authorities proposing to cut a high percentage, and in some cases all, of their supported bus services. Examples include:

 

 

  • Worcestershire County Council and Cumbria County Council are consulting on plans to cut their entire budget for supported buses services, a combined total of nearly £5m
  • Oxfordshire County Council has been consulting on significant cuts to 24 services, including a number on the Prime Minister's Witney constituency
  • North Yorkshire County Council has been consulting on cutting £1.1 million (20 per cent)
  • Dorset County Council conducted a public consultation into cutting £850,000 from its supported bus budget. There was widespread public hostility to the plans with 1,200 people responding to the consultation
  • Essex County Council is consulting on proposals to cut £2.5 million from its supported bus budgets by 2015. This would represent 30 per cent cut.
  • Nottinghamshire County Council has announced proposals to cut £1.8m from supported bus budgets from August 2014.
  • The West Midlands transport authority (Centro) is proposing to cut 25 per cent of its discretionary budget by 2015. This equates to an overall £14m reduction in spending with an unconfirmed amount cut from its supported bus budgets
  • Transport for London (TfL) has drawn up plans to cut 20 per cent from the London bus subsidy by 2016-17, potentially around £65m.
  • The Welsh Government is proposing to reduce the concessionary fare reimbursement for bus operators from 74 per cent of the average fare to 46 per cent from 1 April 2014.

With more people using buses than all other modes of public transport combined, the report argues for increased political attention should be given to buses.

 

Martin Abrams, Public Transport Campaigner, Campaign for Better Transport said

"Politicians both locally and in Westminster need to understand how important buses are. They may not be as politically sexy as big transport projects but they make a significant difference to the economy, the environment and to wider society. It would be a disaster if whole networks were allowed to disappear."

The report argues for a new approach for support for buses. This would include:

 

  • Introduce minimum access standards: There should be agreed minimum standards of access by public transport to facilities such as hospitals, colleges and areas of employment.  A standard could be set by central government and implemented by local government through access plans, offering ‘travel assurance’.
  • A new approach to funding: Currently, the large majority of support for buses comes from local authorities and the Department for Transport. However, buses make an important contribution to the objectives of a number of other departments including Work and Pensions, Health and Education. In future, access to key facilities and services should be paid for by pooled funding from across those departments that benefit from good bus services. This would be ring-fenced and distributed to local transport authorities.
  • Plan long term investment: Long term investment plans for buses would give the industry and local authorities certainty and help plan investment in vehicles and infrastructure. This would mirror the 'control periods' which exist for the railways and now being introduced for the English strategic road network.
  • Grow bus patronage: Government should seek to grow the number of bus users by fully funding concessionary travel for younger and older people. There is also a strong case for introducing a bus bonus scheme which would give a tax break on the cost of a bus season ticket to those in work or apprenticeships.

Martin Abrams, Public Transport Campaigner, Campaign for Better Transport said

 

"But cuts often have a profound effect on vulnerable groups. Losing a bus service can stop young people from getting to education or training and cut older people's lifeline to the outside world. Improving the way we support buses is essential if we want to keep people connected."

Buses in crisis - A report on bus funding across England and Wales is available from the Campaign for Better Transport website. Research in the report is based on responses to Freedom of Information requests made to all local transport authorities regarding supported buses.

Supported buses are services that are subsidised by local authorities because they are not provided by commercial bus companies. They serve communities where no alternative route exists, meaning that any cut or alteration can often have a huge impact on residents and local economies. They also provide services in evenings and at weekends when otherwise services would cease. These subsidised or supported services represent 22 per cent of bus provision in England. This percentage varies considerably across the country, ranging from just 5 per cent in some urban areas to almost 100 per cent in some rural areas.