Half of councils in England and Wales are reducing funding for bus services this year in response to ongoing budget cuts, research suggests.
The Campaign for Better Transport (CBT) has warned bus services are now being lost at an ‘alarming rate’, with certain communities ‘cut off from society’ as town hall funding declines.
Council funding to support subsidised bus services has been cut by £44m since 2010 – a 15% fall. The overall cut in support over the 2014/15 financial year stands at £9m, with rural areas thought to have been hit worst with an average reduction of 19%.
Over 2,000 bus routes have been reduced, altered or withdrawn over the past five years, with 500 services cut over 2014/15.
Some 22 local authorities have reduced funding for supported buses by over 10% in 2014/15, with seven thought not to be spending any money on such services.
The findings from CBT’s Buses in Crisis report are based on Freedom of Information requests sent to all 110 local transport authorities across England and Wales.
The overall reduction in Wales over this financial year stands at over £900,000, with 86 bus services having been cut, altered or withdrawn in 2014/15.
CBT public transport campaigner, Martin Abrams, said threats of further budget cuts remained ‘very worrying’ and urged ministers to ‘wake up to the crisis facing buses’.
‘Across the country, bus services are being lost at an alarming rate. 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.
‘We often hear from people with heartbreaking stories, who have been effectively cut off from society following cuts to their bus service,’ Mr Abrams added.
Campaigners have urged ministers to trial a ‘Total Transport’ model in the UK that unites transport services commissioned by different public bodies and allows resources to be pooled.
Responding to the report, the Department for Transport said: ‘We know bus services are vital, including for many older and disabled people. That is why the Government provides substantial funding, protected until 2015/16, to bus operators to help more services run and keep ticket prices down.
‘Decisions about bus services are best made locally in partnership between councils and the companies which run the buses.’
Responding to the research, Local Government Association transport spokesman, Cllr Peter Box, said: ‘Years of underfunding of the concessionary travel scheme have forced councils to spend millions of pounds of taxpayers' money to subsidise the free travel which provides a lifeline to our most vulnerable residents.
‘As this report shows, this is now becoming impossible with councils having to make savings while struggling to protect vital services like adult social care, safeguarding children, filling potholes and collecting bins. Councils are working to try and find innovative solutions, such as dial-a-ride or community transport schemes, but routes and services can no longer be protected.
‘The way the concessionary travel scheme is funding has long been unfit for purpose and has not kept up with growing demand and cost. The Government must fully fund the concessionary fare schemes to ease the pressure on stretched council budgets and protect cherished bus services.’
Michael Dugher MP, Labour’s shadow transport secretary, said: 'On David Cameron’s watch, bus fares have risen by 25% – an increase five times faster than wage growth – and big bus companies have been cutting crucial routes that people rely on to maximise their own profits.
'Labour is determined to see passenger power by regulating bus services in better way. We will act fast and legislate to give cities and county regions greater control over local bus services. This will result in communities being able to determine routes, set fares and integrate and improve bus services.'