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LGA: Bus services - new figures reveal reductions forced on councils

New figures reveal councils have been forced to reduce bus services by more than 12 per cent in the last year alone –  leaving thousands of people, many of them in rural communities, isolated.

The Local Government Association (LGA), which represents more than 370 councils in England and Wales warns that, in the past financial year alone (2015/16 to 2014/15), overall mileage for all council-supported bus services in rural areas and cities across England (excluding London), has dropped from 165 to 144 million miles (12.3 per cent).

The picture over the past decade (2005/6 to 2015/16) is equally bleak, new government figures show. Council-supported bus services in rural areas only have reduced by 40 per cent – by 71 million bus miles (from 178 to107 million miles) - and in urban areas by just over a quarter (51 to 37 million miles).

London is now beginning to see a decrease in mileage alongside the well-established downward trend across England.

Councils have seen a 40 per cent reduction in their core funding in the previous parliament and are continuing to experience funding pressures. As these pressures start to impact, the cuts to bus services have begun to accelerate.

Local authorities are being forced to divert money from discretionary subsidised bus services - such as free peak travel, community transport services and reduced fares to plug the funding gap in the Concessionary Fares Scheme, which councils have a statutory duty to provide. The scheme gives pensioners and disabled people in England free off-peak travel on all local bus services anywhere in England.

The Local Government Association (LGA), is calling on the Government to use the Autumn Statement to fully fund the Concessionary Fares Scheme. This is currently subsidised by council funding that has to be diverted from other services. The LGA also wants the £250 million Bus Service Operators Grant to be devolved to councils to help target support to vital services.

Cllr Martin Tett, LGA Transport spokesman said:

"These new figures show just how much pressure many local bus services are under, with councils forced by a lack of central government funding to cut discretionary services. In many cases, this is hitting rural communities hardest, leaving families isolated. This is why it is paramount the Government fully funds the Concessionary Fares Scheme in the Autumn Statement.

"Years of underfunding of the scheme has forced councils to spend millions of pounds of taxpayers' money to subsidise the scheme. This is now impossible with councils having to make savings while struggling to protect vital services like adult social care, protecting children, filling potholes and collecting bins.

"Councils know how important buses are for their communities and local economies and are desperate to protect them. Instead, many across the country are reluctantly taking difficult decisions to scale back services and review subsidised routes.

"Local authorities are working with residents to try and find innovative solutions such as organising car-sharing schemes, dial-a-ride or community transport initiatives but routes and services can no longer be protected.

"Unless the Government commits to fully funding concessionary fares, elderly and disabled people will be left stranded with a free bus pass in one hand but no local buses to travel on in the other."

Background

According to a new report:

All figures are millions taken from here

  • This was largely due to a 12.3 per cent decrease in mileage on local authority supported services in England outside London.
  • Supported mileage in metropolitan areas has decreased from 51 to 37 million vehicle miles (a 26.2 per cent decrease) between 2005/06 and 2015/16. Commercial mileage has declined by 32 million vehicle miles or 10.1 per cent. For non-metropolitan areas, supported mileage has decreased by 71 million vehicle miles or 39.8 per cent between 2005/06 and 2015/16.

The Concessionary Fares Scheme provides free bus travel for older and disabled people during off-peak times – the eligible age is 62 and will rise to 66 by 2020.

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