Local government leaders have warned that subsidised bus routes are under threat because of funding cuts.
Councils provide partial or complete subsidies to nearly half of the bus routes in England.
The Local Government Association (LGA) has warned these may be under threat because of the overall council funding gap, which is expected to exceed £5bn 2020.
‘It’s nearly impossible for councils to keep subsidising free travel while having to find billions of pounds worth of savings and protect other vital services like caring for the elderly and disabled, protecting children, filling potholes and collecting bins,’ said Cllr Martin Tett, the LGA’s transport spokesman.
‘Faced with significant funding pressures, many across the country are being forced into taking difficult decisions to scale back services and review subsidised routes.’
Since 2013/14 there were more than 297 million fewer journeys across the country in 2017/18 - a decrease of 6.4%.
This represents what Steve Chambers, public transport campaigner at Campaign for Better Transport, recently described as ‘the slow death of local buses.’
The LGA also added that the Government should fully fund the concessionary fares scheme, which provides free, off-peak, travel for elderly and disabled residents.
This is currently costing local authorities at least £200m a year - an outlay that makes it harder for councils to fund other discretionary subsidised bus services, such as free peak travel, community transport services.
Cllr Tett called on the Government to give councils control over the Bus Service Operators’ Grant, a fuel duty rebate currently paid directly to bus operators.
‘The way the concessionary travel scheme is funded by Government has not kept up with growing demand and cost. Councils are being forced to subsidise the scheme by at least £200m a year,’ he said.
‘By giving councils control over the Bus Service Operators’ Grant, and properly funding national free bus pass schemes, the Government could help us maintain our essential bus services, reduce congestion and protect vital routes.’
This story first appeared on localgov.co.uk.