Transport secretary Grant Shapps announces further £254m for buses and £29m for trams and light rail to help protect and increase services

Shapps: ‘We are increasing capacity on buses and light rail’

A further £283m has been made available to increase the number of bus and light rail services in England “as quickly as possible” so that people who need to travel, including critical workers in the NHS, can do so safely.

Announced by the transport secretary Grant Shapps today, the funding amounts to £254m for buses and £29m for trams and light rail. The timeframe over which this money will be paid and other details have not been specified, but the Department for Transport says it “will help protect and increase services” and ensure there is enough space for passengers to observe social distancing guidelines.

Today’s statement adds: “The funding will be kept under review to ensure that full services can be up and running as quickly as possible.”

This funding is in addition to the £397m funding package that the government announced in early April to keep bus services running in England during the coronavirus pandemic. This package included:

  • New funding of up to £167m, which was to be paid over 12 weeks (£14m a week) under the new COVID-19 Bus Services Support Grant. As a condition of the funding, bus operators will be required to maintain necessary services at a level which is sufficient to meet much reduced demand, but also to allow adequate space between passengers on board. This was expected to be up to 50% of normal service levels – but it the government now requires a greater level of service.
  • £200m of existing funding under the Bus Services Operators Grant to be paid as normal even though not all services may run during this time.
  • Up to £30m of already-pledged government bus funding, originally earmarked for starting new services, which was to instead be paid to local authorities to maintain existing services.

In addition to the funding announced today, 3,400 people, including British Transport Police officers, Network Rail and train operator staff have been deployed at stations to advise passengers and make sure people can follow the guidance put in place. From June 1 at the earliest, twice that many will start to be deployed with the assistance of groups like the charity Volunteering Matters.

Rail passengers across the country will also now benefit from a personalised information service to help them stagger their journeys. Passenger Connect from British tech start-up ZipAbout will tell passengers how disruption and crowding may affect their journey, providing alternatives and helping people maintain social distancing when they need to travel. The service has been successfully piloted by National Rail over the last 12 months and can now support millions of rail users with personalised updates to keep them on the move.

To make it easier for people to choose alternatives to public transport, a series of measures are being rolled out to encourage more people to cycle instead, including:

  • Allocating local authorities a share of £225m, announced earlier this month, to create pop up and permanent cycle lanes and reallocate road space.
  • Amending laws to reduce red tape and halve the time it takes for councils to get these schemes up and running.
  • Committing £25m from the emergency active travel fund to help people get their bikes repaired so that they can get back to cycling.
  • Investing £2.5m to provide 1,180 cycle parking spaces at 30 railway stations across England to help encourage people to incorporate cycling as part of a longer journey.

The government is also working with local authorities and private car park owners to make it easier for people commuting by car to get closer to their place of work and finish their journey on foot or by bike without the need to take public transport. Plans will focus on developing new schemes at car parks near, but not in, city centres from where drivers could collect a bike – or use their own – and follow new cycling or walking routes which would be colour coded by distance.

“To make sure people can travel safely when they need to, we are increasing capacity on buses and light rail, as well as helping local authorities fast-track plans to support cyclists and pedestrians, further reducing pressure on our transport network,” said Shapps.

“These measures will help keep passengers safe now, but we must also prepare for what comes next. Strengthening vital road and railway connections, as well as encouraging cycling and walking, will be essential to our ambition to level up the country, secure a green legacy, and kickstart regional economies, as we build out of COVID-19 and look to the future.”

We’re pleased the government has recognised the important role the bus network is playing in helping people return to work safely and we look forward to receiving further details of the proposed funding.

Representing the bus industry, CPT chief executive Graham Vidler said: “We’re pleased the government has recognised the important role the bus network is playing in helping people return to work safely and we look forward to receiving further details of the proposed funding.

“This is the first step towards delivering a more comprehensive bus network in the coming weeks and months and we will aim to have more buses on our roads as soon as possible. The funding review process announced today will be critical to ensuring the right level of resources are in place to provide communities with the bus services they need.”

Looking to the future, the transport secretary has also laid out further plans to transform the country’s transport infrastructure to help the country “build out” of COVID-19, supporting the nation’s economy, and delivering on the government’s key agenda of “levelling up” the country.

The government has today announced the preferred route for the £1bn A66 Transpennine road upgrade. The scheme will dual the five remaining single carriageway sections of the route and upgrade key junction.

Ten bids have also been announced today to receive a share of a £500,000 Restoring Your Railway ‘Ideas Fund’ to develop proposals to build or reopen railway lines and stations, including those closed following the Beeching cuts of the 1960s. MPs and local authorities were invited to bid for a share of the fund to help reconnect communities across the country, levelling up opportunities for people in isolated areas by increasing their access to jobs and training which will be crucial as the country recovers from coronavirus.

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