COMMONS

Cuts to bus services threaten the most vulnerable say MPs

11 August 2011

Extensive cuts to rural, evening and weekend bus services are damaging the ability of many people – especially the old, young or disabled – to participate in employment, education or voluntary work and to access vital services such as healthcare and retail facilities, say MPs.

In a review of England’s bus services (outside London) after the Spending Review, the cross-party Transport Committee warns that even deeper cuts in bus services are likely in 2012–13, as local authorities struggle to deal with budgetary reductions, and calls for the concessionary travel scheme to be preserved so that the elderly and disabled continue to enjoy free bus travel.

The committee also concludes that the concessionary fares scheme was “discriminatory” because it did not apply to most community transport providers - usually independent charities that provide transport such as dial-a-ride bus services. MPs call on ministers to legislate to permit the use of the concessionary pass on a wider range of community transport services.

Launching the report, Louise Ellman, chair of the Committee said, “The Government claims it wants to see better bus services with many more smartcard–enabled journeys. Yet, following the Government’s Spending Review, we have seen a significant number of bus services withdrawn around the country and there is every indication that fares are set to rise well above the rate of inflation in some areas.

“We know that over 70% of local authorities have moved rapidly to reduce funding for supported bus services, forcing most operators to withdraw services or push up fares - or both - as the English bus industry adjusts to the greatest financial challenge it has faced for a generation.

“For the most part it is rural, evening and Sunday services that are most affected, although in some areas every scrap of funding has been withdrawn from subsidised bus services. In some cases, whole sections of the bus network have been scaled back with little or no proper consultation.”

The committee warns ministers they cannot wash their hands of all responsibility for local bus services. It calls on the Department for Transport to monitor the extent of service cutbacks made this year and to review service provision again after BSOG (Bus Service Operator Grant) grant cuts take effect in 2012 – 13* so that it can analyse and draw conclusions about  the wider costs and benefits of its policy changes to the country as a whole.

Reflecting the greater emphasis being given to devolved decision making, the committee also calls on the Local Government Association to identify and disseminate information about good and bad practice in the delivery of cost effective, flexible services including community transport and/or area-based transport integration.

MPs call on local authorities and commercial operators to consult more widely where services are being changed. They call on the LGA to work with Passenger Focus to provide guidance to all local authorities about how to consult meaningfully with resident and service users about proposals to change local bus services.

Background

Buses are the most available and frequently used mode of public transport in England, carrying two thirds of all passenger journeys . In the 2010 Spending Review the Government made three decision that impact funding available for the English bus industry: local authority revenue expenditure was cut this year by 28%; changes were made to the DfT’s formula for concessionary fare reimbursements; and the Bus Service Operators Grant was cut by 20%from 2012-13.

At least 1,700 community transport organisations operate in England. The concessionary fares scheme does not apply to most community transport providers, although some local authorities do permit this at their discretion. Currently only registered services run by community transport operators under a “section 22” permit, usually demand-responsive bus services, are eligible for the scheme. The Committee heard evidence that the scheme should be extended to cover other community transport operators, particularly dial-a-ride and other section 19 services.

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