‘Trail blazer’ Sheffield gets £1.6m-a-year extra for buses

The government’s decision to withhold England’s Better Bus Areas funding from transport authorities who pursue Quality Bus Contracts was this week attacked by Maria Eagle, Labour’s shadow transport secretary.

On February 26, transport minister Norman Baker launched the bidding process for Better Bus Areas designation and funding, and to announce that Sheffield will act as a “trail-blazer”.

Sheffield, which has looked closely at Quality Bus Contracts in the past, has now opted for a partnership with bus operators FirstGroup and Stagecoach instead. This partnership will now be underpinned by £18.3m of Better Bus Areas funding – a combination of BSOG (Bus Service Operators’ Grant) payments usually paid to operators and additional Department for Transport cash. Being a Better Bus Area will increase local authority funding for buses in Sheffield by £530,000 this financial year and just under £1.6m in future years.

The DfT says the extra money will enable the city to address problems with bus infrastructure and improve traffic management.

However, Maria Eagle said it was wrong that authorities would have to set aside their ambitions for Quality Bus Contracts in order to follow in Sheffield’s footsteps.

“Yet again this government is siding with private bus companies instead of passengers,” she said.

“Ministers have rigged the rules for securing Better Bus Area funding against councils who decide to take on responsibility for setting bus fares and planning the local bus network, despite this already being the case in London.”

She added: “These reforms appear to be simply an attempt by ministers to devolve responsibility for making cuts to vital local services.”

Bids for Better Bus Areas funding must submitted by June 21. The winners will be announced on October 1.

 

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