Campaigners have called on ministers to use the Bus Services Bill to improve public transport in rural areas, including reversing bus funding cuts.
Campaign for Better Transport (CfBT) said the Bill, which is currently in the House of Lords, contains welcome measures to help improve buses in towns and cities, but little to help rural areas where services have been hit hard by local authority funding cuts.
It has called for a raft of measures to be included in the Bill ‘to help get rural public transport on a proper long-term footing’.
These include: local public transport assessments; rolling out total transport to all local authorities; improved funding; and protecting transport services as assets of community value.
Stephen Joseph, CfBT chief executive, said: ‘Public transport cuts can have a devastating impact on rural areas. If you don't have access to a car, the chances are you're reliant on buses to get you to school, to hospital, to friends or to the shops. If that bus service disappears it can leave whole villages completely isolated.
‘The Government must use the Bus Services Bill to give rural local authorities the powers and funding to stop communities getting cut off.’
CfBT said local authorities should be required to carry out assessments of need for public transport in their areas. Many local authorities do not currently do this, ‘meaning cuts to bus services can be considered in isolation with the result that whole communities risk being cut off’.
Total transport works by combining budgets and planning across council services to give better more efficient transport provision. CfBT said Government trials which have been ongoing since 2015 should now be widened so all local authorities can get the best out of limited resources.
CfBT said the Bill ‘has to come with financial support as well as new powers’. It said existing grants such as the Bus Service Operators' Grant should be retained at their existing level and additional money made available to support local public transport assessments and total transport.
Currently, communities can identify buildings or land that they believe are important to them as 'assets of community value' and require local authorities to protect them from loss or change of use. CfBT said this power should widened through the Bill to include services, meaning public transport that is essential in connecting communities can also be protected.