It is imperative that funding for buses from central government is maintained. Failure to do so would have major knock-on effects

 

bus_leedsBuses are responsible for 1.4 billion shopping trips per year

 

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Every day in Britain, millions of people depend upon buses to help them get where they need to be. They might be on their way to meet a friend for coffee and visit the shops, or they could be travelling to work or to a hospital appointment.

Without their local bus service, many of these people wouldn’t reach their destination – from the student forced to give up their college course to the pensioner trapped at home and isolated from friends and family.

Buses are responsible for 1.4 billion shopping trips per year, contributing £27bn to the retail economy, and helping to create £64bn of goods and services per year by transporting 2.5 million people to and from work.

Yet despite the integral role they play in keeping Britain moving and thriving, buses have often been the first name on the block for both central and local government funding cuts. Overall funding for networks outside London has been reduced by £500m since 2010/11.

Today Greener Journeys, Campaign for Better Transport and pteg launch a briefing which outlines the various sources of funding for buses and examines the impact of cuts on networks across the country. It concludes that reducing overall grant levels could severely impact the bus market and cause wider economic and social turmoil.

The largest portion of funding comes directly from government, principally via the Bus Service Operators Grant in England, or similar schemes in Wales and Scotland. Research by KPMG for Greener Journeys shows that each pound allocated through BSOG generates up to £3.50 in benefits – principally for passengers, but also for other road users and the wider economy.

However, funding available through BSOG was reduced by 20% in 2012/13. At the same time local authority spending on ‘socially necessary’ bus services and concessionary travel schemes has also declined, with a reduction of 15% (£44m) since 2010. Research by Campaign for Better Transport has shown that in the last year alone almost 600 bus services across England and Wales were cut, withdrawn or altered.

The inevitable result of further cuts to funding for local bus services is the continuation of current trends including reductions in service, increases in fares and declining bus usage. Withdrawing BSOG now would likely trigger a 3% rise in fares and a drop in service levels of 7%, with more passengers switching from the bus to private cars. This would have a potentially severe impact on the economy.

High streets would suffer due to reduced access to towns, labour markets outside urban centres would shrink, and greater pressure would be placed on the road network, with a corresponding rise in pollution.

There would also be significant social impacts, according to new research conducted by Greener Journeys with Mindlab which found that 80% of passengers know someone who completely depends on their local bus service. Half of those surveyed said they would attend fewer events without their local bus service, while 40% said they would be forced to spend less time with family.

It is imperative that the total sum of grant funding for buses from central government is maintained at current levels. Failure to do so would result in a downward spiral in bus services, with major knock-on effects on the economy and society which Britain’s bus networks support so well.

 

This article appears inside the latest issue of Passenger Transport.

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