Endangered bus services get an extra £130m

Barry White

Regional bus services in England including many in Yorkshire that were at risk, have been given a reprieve after yesterday’s government announcement of £130m for at least six months. Many services faced being cut back when Covid grants which supported services during the pandemic, expired at the start of October. The Department for Transport said it would provide further support to ensure that services keep running until March 2023.

The additional £130m of funding takes the total amount of pandemic support to £2bn as bus companies face rising costs and continued low use of their services compared to pre-Covid times.

Northern mayors hailed the decision as a “big win” after the Government decision to provide more funding to prevent hundreds of bus services being cut.

Grant Shapps the transport secretary, said: “At a time when people are worried about rising costs, it’s more important than ever we save these bus routes for the millions who rely on them for work, school and shopping.”

Operating costs have increased by about 20% since the start of the pandemic, according to the Confederation of Public Transport (CPT), who have welcomed the announcement (https://www.cpt-uk.org/news/) but passenger numbers remain 15% down on average countrywide.

However, just what happens in six months time when the funding runs out is open to question but no doubt the Government will come under pressure not to allow services to be cut.  Whilst this short term support is welcome, a longer sustainable plan needs to be put in place that guarantees these vital services and reduces fares to an affordable level.

Meanwhile the Financial Times reports today that government ministers are facing growing pressure to scrap the annual RPI (retail price index) inflation-linked increase in train fares. The July RPI rate announced this week was 12.3% which is important as price rises for regulated fares whch tend to be on consummter routes are calculated using the July  RPI figure. The Transport Department has already announced that it will not increase fares by as much as the July RPI figure and have agreed to delay any rise from January to March next year (see: https://www.transport-network.co.uk/DfT-to-limit-rail-fare-rise-as-inflation-hits-double-figures/17776 , but passenger groups have called on the government to go further.

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