Latest Public Sector News

28.09.15

Pressed councils call for ‘total overhaul’ of bus funding to rescue schemes

Bus funding must benefit from a “total overhaul” in the upcoming Spending Review in order to halt the harsh effects of reduced services and slashed budgets nationwide, the Local Government Association (LGA) has said.

As part of a wider funding report, the LGA called for devolved powers, a package of budgetary reforms and “less red tape” in the government’s November review to allow councils to support failing bus services.

According to the association, up to 500 bus routes nationwide are already being reduced or altered every year, with around half of these being cancelled altogether.

Thinned funding for the concessionary bus scheme, which provides off-peak free travel for elderly and disabled residents, also forces councils to seek subsidies at the cost of other discretionary subsidised bus and local services – such as free peak travel, community transport services, smaller fares and post-16 school transport. This is despite the fact that the scheme’s demand has soared due to an ageing population.

Insufficient funding will also hit bus users in more isolated rural communities, many of whom have already seen services reduced.

Cllr Peter Box, LGA transport spokesman, said: “Councils are doing everything they can to support bus users, but are fast reaching a tipping point. There are limited opportunities to make further savings and reductions in funding for concessionary bus fares continues to impact on many services for the elderly, disabled and commuters, for whom bus routes are a lifeline.

“Councils are being forced to dip into their discretionary pots to prop up statutory services. Local authorities are trying to dig deep to subsidise transport costs for their communities while struggling to protect vital services like caring for the elderly, filling potholes and collecting bins. As a result, many across the country are reluctantly taking difficult decisions to scale back services and review subsidised routes.

“What is needed is a total overhaul of the way buses are run and funded as part of the Spending Review to protect cherished bus services and ease the pressure on stretched council budgets.”

The LGA is therefore calling for the concessionary fares scheme to be fully funded, alongside devolving control over the Bus Service Operators’ Grant – a fuel duty rebate paid directly to bus operators by central government – to councils.

Councils also want to be handed power over enforcing moving traffic violations, such as illegal U-turns and box junction offences, in order to tackle hotspot congestion that can delay bus services. They also highlight the importance of being granted the option of franchising services, a measure already in place in London where bus usage has avoided continuing decline.

Other devolved powers needed in the Spending Review include introducing area-wide ticket schemes and removing licences from rogue operators who run substandard vehicles and services.

They also want to be given better access to information about fares and how services are performing, a right already present in London and throughout the rail network. Local bus operators are currently under no obligation to provide fares information other than on the bus itself.

To deal with cuts and limited local powers, councils are currently working with residents to try to identify solutions such as organising carpool schemes, dial-a-ride or community transport initiatives, as well as linking services like home-to-school transport and other bus services.

PSE contacted the Department for Transport for comment but did not receive a reply in time for publication.

Comments

Brianc   28/09/2015 at 12:30

It would seem to me that the Bus Company profits need to be looked at, as they appear to be able to provide a massive yield to their share holders, whilst these services are being cut. Is this their way of holding councils to ransom to ensure that the large profits continue to go to share holders, or to building their business. For example, First Bus started out by taking over the Aberdeen City bus service, and have grown on the back of charging exorbitant fares to Aberdonians into a multi-national bus and rail conglomerate. It should be more about providing the service than raking in the cash. It was a shame that the Councils sub contracted the work in the first place, as they could have been making the profits, and thereby putting them back into services, rather than lining the pockets of the already rich share holders.

Christine Hill   28/09/2015 at 18:07

bus cuts are destroying our rural areas. they affect old people and young alike. People of any age can lose a drivers licence due illness-my 17 year old niece did for 18 months due to an epileptic fit. people have contacted me as a Cllr highly distressed and wondering where they can go to live as they are now stranded. Cut overseas aid, cut many more bright ideas that don't work but leave the very basics - public transport. indeed bring back rail services which were axed in 1966. Many areas that have revived them are astounded at the numbers of people using them, often causing a parking problem now.

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