Activists warn against funding England’s bus network now or losing vital bus prices

Bus services will not continue without sustainable funding from the Treasury, activists and industry groups have warned the chancellor after hundreds of roads were cut off in recent months.

Transport charities and trade bodies wrote to Jeremy Hunt requesting support ahead of this fall’s statement this week urging him to secure short-term funding, targeted assistance to local authorities, and better long-term financial settlements.

Bus services are struggling with declining demand since the Covid pandemic, severe driver shortages and rising fuel costs. In a letter to the Chancellor before the tax and spending announcements, the Campaign for Better Transport and the Passenger Transport Association warned that failure to act could lead to the loss of important public transport networks.

The letter to Hunt, who is expected to set aside up to £35 billion in spending cuts in his autumn statement, said: “Budgeting the books is in the public interest, but this cannot be at the expense of our public transport network.

Local authority budgets are also under severe strain, and many cannot afford support services. This has resulted in hundreds of bus routes being cut or curtailed over the past few months. We can’t see this continuing.”

While the government promised to invest £3 billion in buses after unveiling the long-awaited national strategy, much of the funding has been swallowed up by emergency grants to tackle pandemics. About £1.2 billion has been earmarked for plans to improve the bus service, but the controversial and costly bidding process has left only a minority of local authorities receiving any money, on average less than 25% of the amount needed to fund the promised upgrades.

Paul Twohy of the Campaign to Improve Transportation said: “Bus are at the heart of our economy. They are the most widely used form of public transportation in the country and an essential service, with millions of people relying on buses to access education, employment, healthcare and main streets.

“While government support for local buses since the beginning of the pandemic has been welcome, the shape of future funding for buses will be critical to the survival of our local bus network.”

The letter follows a critical report by the House of Lords that warned bus services could be cut by up to 20% next year and called for an end to “costly and ineffective” bidding for grants in favor of stable periodic funding. The Lords Multi-Party Environment Committee said the end of pandemic funding was “a danger.”[ed] A downward spiral of demand reduction.

A Department for Transport spokesperson said: “We are committed to improving bus fares, services and infrastructure and have already provided nearly £2 billion since March 2020 to operators and local authorities to mitigate the effects of the pandemic.

“We recently announced an additional £130 million to protect services and maintain existing roads, and are working with partners to ensure services remain commercially sustainable by reflecting the long-term needs of passengers.”