CBT highlights cuts to supported services
The Campaign for Better Transport has highlighted funding cuts by local authorities on bus services of more than £9million in England this year, with overall reduction since 2010/11 of £44million. The campaign group acknowledges that this relates to bus routes that are supported by local authority funding and that more than 80 per cent of routes are provided commercially by bus operators without subsidy.
“Year on year cuts to budgets mean entire networks have now disappeared, leaving many communities with little public transport and in some cases none at all,” says Martin Abrams, public transport campaigner, Campaign for Better Transport. “We often hear from people with heartbreaking stories, who have been effectively cut off from society following cuts to their bus service. They are unable to access jobs, shops or public services, and are left in isolation with little contact with the outside world.”
Responding on behalf of the operators, CPT chief executive Simon Posner challenges the use of the word ‘crisis’ by the campaigners. "It is disappointing that the report does not credit the commercial bus market for the way operators have underpinned bus routes for many years, while local authority supported routes have been withdrawn.
“Buses are essentially a “local” service and delivering high-quality networks is a shared responsibility between bus operators and local authorities. When they work together in strong and lasting partnership real benefits for the passenger are achieved.”
CBT’s research shows that since 2010 more than 2,000 routes have been reduced or withdrawn entirely and half of English local authorities have reduced funding for bus services in 2014/15. Seven local authorities now don't spend anything on supported bus services, according to CBT, including Hartlepool, Stockton-on-Tees, Darlington, Stoke-on-Trent, Luton, Southend on Sea and Wrexham, while 22 local authorities have cut more than 10 per cent of bus funding in 2014/15.
Among CBT’s challenges for government is a call to fully fund concessionary passes, something that will please the operators, although it also wants to see the establishment of a Connectivity Fund, something promoted by the PTEs, to bring together BSOG with additional ‘top slicing’ from 11 other government departments that benefit from functional bus networks. CBT argues that the Connectivity Fund should aim to provide £500million in bus funding which it claims will pay for itself by reducing the cost of other public services and by supporting economic growth.
Meanwhile Posner points to continuing calls for re-regulation in the wake of stories about austerity cuts. “It is curious that some people are calling for the return of bus services to the public sector, when in fact it is the public sector who are responsible for these cuts,” says Posner.
“The focus should be on working together to further improve services for passengers, not arguing about control. Statements calling for a change to the existing regime only serve to dent confidence in the industry going forward.”
Claire Walters, chief executive, Bus Users adds: “This report is a stark reminder that rather than being valued, buses are being treated as an expendable resource.
“Many operators have been working to mitigate the effects of funding cuts by making more mileage commercial rather than supported, and some local authorities have been undertaking their own efficiency savings. But there is a limit to how much can be achieved in this way and future cuts will bite deeper.”