Almost 60% of public transport journeys are made by bus

So why has the funding been halved?

Buses are Britain’s most frequent used form of public transport. Last year, 4.4 billion bus trips were made across England and buses account for 59% of all public transport trips in Great Britain (compared with 21% by rail). But since 2010, local authority funding for buses has halved and thousands of services have been lost.

This affects everyone, but especially people on low incomes, the young and the elderly. Without immediate action to halt the decline of Britain’s buses many could be left without a way to access vital services and opportunities – and ultimately excluded from society.

So begins Nicole Badstuber of the University College London in a recent article.

The Campaign for Better Transport goes further: In fact the Government’s own Social Mobility Commission highlighted the lack of transport as one major contributor to poor social mobility in remote rural and coastal areas. The Campaign views with alarm this trend in the financing and provision of bus services in its report Buses in Crisis: A Report on Bus Funding across England and Wales 2010-2018.(1) The key finding from our research is that a net reduction in funding of £20.2 million has been made to supported bus services in England in 2017-18. This is a 9 per cent reduction since 2016-17. Since 2010-11 there has been a net reduction of £172 million from supported bus services in England, a reduction of 46 per cent. In Herefordshire the 2010-11 spend on tendered service was £2,360,126. By 2017-18 it had fallen to £677,429 a drop of 71%.

In 2016 even the Department for Transport concluded that local authority tendered bus services gave value for money. The Departments conclusions were:

2.32 Tendered bus services provide a number of benefits to local communities and high value for money overall. They generate between £2 and £2.5016 for every £1 of local authority spend.

2.33 These figures do not include wider benefits such as productivity gains in the economy, additional spending in local markets or health authority savings from improved access to healthcare and preventative treatment, enabled by bus transport.

2.34 Tendered services also provide a vital transport lifeline to some communities where no other low-cost or easily accessible transport alternatives exist. This is the case with rural services where although only a minority of households do not have access to a car, without their tendered local bus service those households could remain isolated.

2.35 In theory, some bus operators might choose to run specific tendered service routes commercially if local authorities stopped funding them. Such bus operators might be willing to sustain losses on those services in order to maintain brand presence, consumer goodwill or onward connections to the rest of their bus network. This would reduce the reported benefit of tendered services as some of the benefits would take place without government spending.

2.36 However, this is likely to be an exception as evidence on bus operator profitability suggests that although a number of operators might have healthy profits, some operate on low margins. Profitability varies by individual area and the provision of services is likely to vary greatly, meaning the absence of tendered services can take away the guaranteed provision of bus services to communities where it plays an important socio-economic role.

2.37 Additionally, the commercial bus network only recovered to the 2007/08 levels in 2012/13. It is unlikely that recent commercial mileage recovery has picked up much of the tendered network as the latter are usually the most marginal if not wholly unprofitable routes. Bus operators are likely to prioritise recovering “prime” sections of the network lost during the recession or those borne out of changes to bus demand since then.(2)

(1)   Buses in Crisis: Report from the Campaign for Better Transport

(2)  Value for Money of Tendered Bus Services: Department for Transport 2016