Bus services make fewer journeys and lose funding over past decade – report
Written by Rother Radio News on 01/10/2020
The number of bus journeys taken in England has fallen by 10% in the last decade, with funding for bus services down by nearly 40%, according to the National Audit Office.
The NAO – which scrutinises public spending for parliament – said the Department for Transport must provide a clear strategy for the future of bus travel, saying it will likely remain the primary and essential mode of transport for many, especially the most disadvantaged.
Between 2010-11 and 2018-19 the number of bus journeys fell in 65 of 88 English local transport authorities outside London.
During the same time period, local authority financial support for bus services fell 38%.
In 2019, central and local government subsidies and support for bus services made up around 24% of bus operators’ revenue.
But the NAO says increasing congestion means operators are having to run more buses to maintain frequency, which, combined with falling passenger numbers, is putting pressure on profits.
Bus services outside London are deregulated, with more than 500 companies operating routes across Britain.
Gareth Davies, comptroller and auditor general of the NAO, said: “Despite the Department for Transport’s long-stated aim to increase bus use, passenger numbers have fallen since 2010.
“The department has funded some valuable local enhancements to bus services but these do not constitute systemic improvement.”
He added: “To meet the needs of local people, especially those in rural and disadvantaged communities, the department’s future bus strategy should match the funding provided to its objectives, and better enable local authorities and operators to work together.”
In the Cotswolds town of Fairford, locals have long fought for better bus services but have seen the number of buses cut in recent years.
Many residents travel to bigger nearby towns of Swindon or Cirencester for work, but there are just a handful of buses, making commuting impossible for some.
Jamie, a young commuter, said: “They’re not frequent enough – I prefer to get a lift in car, it’s just easier as I know when I’ll get there. The buses are one every two to three hours, so it’s a nightmare.”
Fairford resident Jake drives his own car and told Sky News the bus service in the area isn’t fit for purpose.
He said: “There are just not enough [buses] to be effective.
“You need a set number of buses – not just one in the morning and one in the evening, which is not far off what it is.”
The town’s mayor, Cllr James Nicholls, told Sky News infrequent busses are having an impact of people’s jobs and the environment.
“Because people don’t have trust in the local bus service and it’s not fit for purpose for their employment, they choose to take other means of transport.”
He added: “Many people have to have a car in a rural community because they cannot take public transport and in this day and age when we talk about environmental issues and being greener, rural communities don’t have that choice.”
Inadequate bus provision is not just a rural issue.
In Manchester, campaigners say travelling across the city can be complex.
Pascale Robinson from the group Better Buses for Greater Manchester, said: “There are 30 to 40 bus companies in Greater Manchester, each running their own routes and their own timetable, each trying to compete with each other and overlap. And they get all of the control over our network. And what this means is they put profit over communities.”
He added: “We have a huge problem: our buses are unreliable, they’re unaffordable, and increasingly they’re non-existent. So bus use has fallen by 40% since deregulation happened, and what that means is that private companies have all of the control – they decide the routes, the fares, the ticket process, and it just doesn’t work.”
Matt Rodda MP, Labour’s shadow buses minister, said: “The Tories said deregulation would improve our buses but they are running services into the ground.
“This independent report shows passengers now face a toxic mix of rising fares, cuts to services and reduced access.
“The government must urgently get a grip and improve bus services which are vital to communities up and down the country.”
A DfT spokesperson said: “Catching the bus is a vital part of daily life for people right across the country and while we have made progress in many areas, as the NAO’s report sets out, more can be done to deliver the services passengers rightly deserve.
“That’s why, as we build back better from COVID-19, we want to go further still – our National Bus Strategy, which we aim to publish this year, will set out how government, councils and operators can work together to best meet the needs of passengers.
“This work will build on our significant investment in the sector, with more than £600m of emergency funding provided to keep buses moving during the pandemic, on top of the £3bn we’ve pledged to overhaul buses for regions outside of London – including in rural areas.”
© Sky News 2020