Threat to buses as councils fear looming £5bn shortfall
ALMOST half of England’s bus routes are in jeopardy from national funding cuts, town halls have warned.
Cuts could leave many people, particularly pensioners, isolated and local authorities cannot afford to continue to subsidise bus firms.
Nearly half of all routes in England receive partial or complete subsidies from councils but the Local Government Association said they are struggling as overall funding is expected to be £5billion short by 2020.
The association said councils are also spending at least £200million a year to subsidise free passes for the elderly and disabled.
The concessions come at the cost of other discretionary subsidised bus services such as free peak travel, community transport and post-16 school transport and services such as collecting bins and filling potholes.
Councillors want control over the Bus Service Operators Grant, a fuel duty rebate paid directly to operators. They say this would enable them to protect vital routes and give them funding they need.
Cllr Martin Tett, the association’s transport spokesman, said: “Buses provide a vital service for our communities and a lifeline for our most vulnerable residents. It’s nearly impossible to keep subsidising free travel while having to find billions of pounds of savings and protect other vital services.
“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 has not kept up with growing demand and cost. Councils are being forced to subsidise the scheme by at least £200million 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.”
The operating cost per passenger journey outside London increased by 6p between 2012-13 and 2016-17, which represents a total operating cost of just over £3billion.