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Local government funding cuts threaten half of bus routes

Almost half of all bus routes in England are under threat due to partial or incomplete subsidies from councils, the Local Government Association (LGA) has warned.

According to the LGA, ongoing funding pressures mean that councils will struggle to maintain current subsidies for bus routes across the country, which could leave vulnerable people isolated and unsupported.

Council leaders are warning that bus services will continue to fall unless councils are given the powers and funding to protect them.

The LGA reports that since 2013-14, journeys across the country have decreased by 6.4%, while the operating cost per passenger journey outside of London has increased by 6 pence between 2012-13 and 2016-17, representing a total of over £3bn.

Between 2013 and 2017, the number of vehicles on the road has increased by 7.7%.

The LGA is calling on the government to urgently address the growing funding gaps that local services are facing, and to fully fund the concessionary fares scheme.

The association says that councils spend at lead @200m a year on subsidising the scheme, which provides free, off-peak travel for elderly and disabled residents, at the cost of other discretionary subsidised bus services, such as free peak bus travel, community transport services and post-16 school transport.

According to the LGA, giving councils control over the Bus Service Operators’ Grant, which is a fuel duty rebate currently paid directly to bus operators, would enable councils to protect vital bus routes and give them the funding they need.

Cllr Martin Tett, transport spokesperson for the LGA, explained: “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.”

He added: “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.”

Tett argued that the way the confessionary travel scheme is funded by the government has not kept up with growing demand or cost, and that councils are being forced to subsidise the scheme by at least £200m 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,” he concluded.


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