Funding cuts threatening half of all bus routes

The Local Government Association has warned that almost half of all bus routes in England currently receive partial or complete subsidies from councils and are under threat.

With local authorities facing an overall funding gap that is expected to exceed £5 billion 2020, the LGA says that councils will struggle to maintain current subsidies for bus routes across the country, leaving vulnerable residents isolated and unsupported, as well as causing increased congestion and poorer air quality in local communities.

According to figures, there were more than 297 million fewer journeys across the country in 2017/18 compared to 2013/14, while the operating cost per passenger journey outside of London has increased by 6p between 2012/13 and 2016/17, which represents a total operating cost of £3,055,220,000.

Therefore, the LGA is urging the government to fully fund the concessionary fares scheme and give councils control over the Bus Service Operators’ Grant, a fuel duty rebate currently paid directly to bus operators, which would enable councils to protect vital bus routes, and give them the funding they need to provide an effective and efficient bus service.

Martin Tett, the LGA’s transport spokesman, said: “Buses provide a vital service for our communities and a lifeline for our most vulnerable residents to go shopping, pick up medication, attend doctor appointments or socialise with friends. Councils know how important buses are for their residents and local economies and are desperate to protect them.

“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. Faced with significant funding pressures, many across the country are being forced into taking difficult decisions to scale back services and review subsidised routes.

“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 £200 million a year. 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.”

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