The Welsh Government has deferred cuts to Bus Service Operators Grant, but the last minute decision was too late for some. Rhodri Clark reports.

The Welsh Government has deferred the 25% cut in BSOG which it announced in January, but the decision came too late to prevent large fare rises and some service reductions.

Also reprieved for three months was the Local Transport Services Grant for local authorities. Welsh transport minister Carl Sargeant had given less than three months’ warning of a 27% reduction on April 1 (PT024), but said in mid-March he had decided to maintain existing funding until June after becoming aware that many contracts require three months’ notice. Political opponents claimed the move was electioneering.

However, many passengers felt the impact of the WG’s January decision to cut to BSOG and LTSG this week when fares increased significantly. Arriva Buses Wales withdrew all return fares, reduced the child discount from half to one-third, and increased adult single fares.

Michael Morton, ABW’s managing director, said the WG had hinted that it might defer the BSOG reduction, and ABW had held back on registering service reductions as a result. However, a fares increase has gone ahead.

“We were only told on Thursday afternoon [27 March] at about 3.20pm what the final details were,” he said. “It’s a stay of execution until June. If there are meaningful discussions with the operators about what ‘son of BSOG’ will look like, the minister has said he may be prepared to extend it until September.

“In the middle of that there’s the fuel duty increase in August. Rather than messing around taking them [the fares increases] out and then putting them back in if the minister decides we’re not playing ball with him, we decided to get the fares increase in place.”

He said local authorities were in a similar position. Some services in Anglesey and Conwy would reduce this month as the councils cope with expected LTSG cuts.

Elsewhere, First Cymru has registered numerous reductions in and around Swansea in April in expectation of the BSOG reduction, while Stagecoach South Wales has registered to withdraw two entire routes. Wrexham-based GHA Coaches – Wales’ largest independent – has increased its fares by up to 20%.

Cardiff Bus increased fares on April 1. Managing director David Brown said little information had been provided ahead of the meeting on March 27, which was attended by Sargeant, CPT Cymru and other representatives. “We have previously made clear that changes take weeks to plan, including reprogramming ticket machine software, updating details at over 300 bus stops and a major customer information programme,” added Brown.

After the meeting, Sargeant said the current funding would continue, providing progress was made on devising a new system focused on services rather than fuel. “We have had a full and frank discussion of how we take this matter forward. Whilst there are differences, I am confident that with goodwill and hard work we can reach a solution. Whilst these discussions continue, there will be no cut in support.

“The Westminster government has severely cut the resources available to Welsh Government which has put enormous pressures on our transport budget. We are determined to provide the best level of bus services in Wales that we possibly can, but that means doing things differently.”

His letter to regional transport consortia, dated March 16, makes clear that LTSG will be maintained until June, after which he is “prepared to make available transitional funding to cover the contractual obligations faced by local authorities’.

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