Bus passenger journeys continue to fall

The Local Government Association (LGA) has warned that the number of people using buses in England each year has fallen to its lowest level in a decade, dropping to 4.44 billion passenger journeys across the country in 2016/17.

Overall there were more than 70 million fewer journeys across the country in the year to end to March 2017 in comparison to the previous year, with buses travelling 1.1 per cent fewer miles in the same period, reflecting a decline in local authority funding for supported services. The LGA says the continued decline could have an impact on increased congestion and poorer air quality.

The LGA is calling on government to reduce the pace of reductions of core grant funding to all councils over the next two years, and is urging the government to fully fund the concessionary fares scheme. With councils spending at least £200 million a year to subsidise the scheme, the group argues that this is detracting away from other discretionary subsidised bus services - such as free peak travel, community transport services and post 16 school transport – and other local services like collecting bins and filling potholes.

Martin Tett, the LGA’s Transport spokesman, said: “It is hugely concerning to see such a steady decrease in bus journeys. 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, 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 Whitehall has not kept up with growing demand and cost. By giving councils control over the Bus Service Operators’ Grant, and properly funding the free bus pass schemes the government could help us support and maintain our essential bus services, reduce congestion and protect vital routes.”