Rural bus services at ‘historic low’


One in four bus routes in county and rural areas have vanished over the last decade as passenger numbers dropped to a historic low, according to a new report.

The report, produced by public transport consulting group SYSTRA, found that bus services in rural areas were already in a state of ‘managed decline’ before problems were worsened by the pandemic.

It said the Government’s National Bus Strategy, launched in 2021, had done little to help because two thirds of its funding went to urban areas, despite towns and cities seeing the smallest declines in passenger numbers.

The 37 largest county and rural authorities made bus service improvement plan bids totaling £3.6bn but received just 10% of this, the research found.

The report, which was commissioned by the County Councils Network (CCN), said there had been a lack of clarity around why some bids had been unsuccessful and said there should be clear criteria for how future funding allocations are decided.

With funding gaps in their local transport budgets, councils in rural and county areas were struggling to continue to subsidise bus services deemed unviable by commercial operators, the research found.

Cllr Stephen Giles-Medhurst, transport spokesperson for the CCN, said: ‘Buses have long been a lifeline for many people in rural areas, particularly the elderly and the disadvantaged.

‘But outside of London and the cities, far too many services are at best, patchy, and at worst, non-existent.

‘We had high hopes for the Government’s National Bus Strategy, especially as the support for services during the pandemic was comprehensive.

‘But many county areas were left feeling let down with their funding allocations, with the majority of fund being directed to the places that arguably needed the least help.’

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