Bus services in England suffered a massive drop in numbers in the year ending March 2015, with 27 million fewer journeys, largely due to continuing reductions in council supported services.
Official government figures reveal a 10% reduction in mileage for council supported services outside London while commercial mileage increased by 1.4%, exacerbating the divergence between public and commercial services and London and the rest of the country.
Figures from the DfT
Over the last decade local authorities outside London have slashed supported mileage by 55 million miles, while commercial mileage has increased by 13 million miles.
Meanwhile local bus fares in England increased by 61% on average between March 2005 and March 2015. In the year to March 2015, local bus fares increased by a further 3.3% - faster than the annual Retail Prices Index inflation rate of 0.9%.
‘Between March 2010 and March 2015, the average annual percentage change in bus fares was 4.5% higher than the average annual rate of inflation (3.1%),’ the DfT states.
This recent trend in falling or stagnating service numbers across England has been in stark contrast to the story in the capital, where bus services were not deregulated under the 1985 Transport Act and Transport for London holds franchising powers.
Bus use in England outside London has increased by 1.7% over the last decade but by 31% in London (doubling since 1985/86).
In the year to March, bus journeys in the capital continued to increase but only by 0.1%, while bus journeys across England outside of London fell by 1.3% according to the DfT.
More than half of England's bus journeys are now taken in Greater London. Martin Abrams, public transport campaigner at the Campaign for Better Transport, said: ‘Since 2010, government has made swingeing year on year cuts in support for buses. These statistics show the impact of those cuts with bus services disappearing, isolating whole communities and leaving ever more people unable to get to education, jobs and other basic services.’
As part of the ongoing devolution agenda it introduced a Buses Bill in the Queen’s Speech this year designed to give cities and regions London-style franchising powers.
Mr Abrams said the plans to devolve transport powers needed to be backed up with ‘proper funding’.
‘If they really care about buses, the chancellor will have to put his money where his mouth. That means not pulling the rug out from under the bus industry and protecting essential funding in the Spending Review, otherwise whole networks of bus services could be lost,’ he added.
The Campaign for Better Transport also warned that the Bus Service Operators Grant (BSOG), which works as a tax rebate supporting local bus services, could be under threat in the November Spending Review.
The Local Government Association has previously called for the devolution of the grant and more control of concessionary fare schemes for elderly, disabled and youth concessions. In total these made up 34% of all bus passenger journeys in England in the year ending March.