Campaigners have warned the chancellor that the country ‘cannot afford’ to lose more bus routes and called for more cash support, including targeted funding for councils that missed out on recent funding to improve bus services.
In a joint letter to Jeremy Hunt ahead of this week’s Autumn Statement, groups such as Campaign for Better Transport (CfBT), the Confederation of Passenger Transport, the Urban Transport Group and Bus Users UK sought to make a positive case, calling on the chancellor to ‘take decisive action to boost the economy by showing your full support for local bus services’.
A holidaymaker with a bus pass on a bus in Cornwall
Adopting ministers' usual euphemism for cuts, the group acknowledged that ‘difficult decisions will have to be made’, adding: ‘Balancing the books is in the public interest, but this cannot be at the expense of our public transport network.’
In fact, the chancellor is expected to try to reduce the expected scale of the Government’s fiscal deficit, not eliminate it entirely.
CfBT chief executive Paul Tuohy said: ‘Whilst Government support for local buses since the start of the pandemic has been welcome, the shape of future funding for buses will be crucial for the survival of our local bus network.’
The letter, which was copied to transport ministers, warns that bus operators are struggling with lower demand on some routes, severe driver shortages, and fuel costs, while local authority budgets ‘are under severe strain’.
It adds: ‘This has resulted in hundreds of bus routes being cut or reduced over the last few months. We cannot afford to see this continue. Bus service cuts damage the economy, leave people socially isolated and with no access to employment or vital public services, damage our prospects of levelling-up and of reducing transport emissions.’
According to the campaigners, only 40% of local transport authorities (LTAs) received funding for Bus Service Improvement Plans (BSIPs), ‘and those that did received on average less than a quarter of what they had asked for’.
The letter notes that bus use by concessionary passengers is only at 72% of pre-pandemic levels, and that with the Bus Recovery Grant ending in April, ‘any increase in passengers by that date is not expected to be large enough to make up the funding gap’.
It calls on Mr Hunt to protect spending commitments already in place on local buses and trams for this spending period and provide ‘a short-term funding guarantee to ensure no further network reductions until reformed funding arrangements are in place’.
The campaigners also called for targeted funding for LTAs that lost out on the BSIP funding and accelerated reform of funding arrangements for local buses and trams in England outside London.