Thursday, 17 November 2016
Councils warn bus service cuts isolate passengers
Families in rural areas are being isolated due to cuts in bus services, councils have warned. Research by the Local Government Association says subsidised bus services in England have been reduced by more than 12% in the past year. The LGA blamed cuts by the government to councils' budgets. The Department for Transport said it was working with local transport companies to improve services and boost the use of buses.
In Britain last year, there were three times as many journeys taken on bus than on trains. But the LGA - which represents councils in England and Wales - found the number of miles driven by council-subsidised buses in England (excluding London) dropped by 12% last year. It says local authorities have been diverting money from subsidised bus services to fund the gap in the Concessionary Fares Scheme, which councils have a statutory duty to provide. The scheme gives pensioners and disabled people in England free off-peak travel on all local bus services anywhere in England. In Whittington in Lancashire, the number of buses has reduced from 111 a week to five - all of which are school buses. Duncan Foster told BBC Radio 4's Today the situation was so bad he resorted to hitch-hiking from the bus stop in a hi-visibility jacket
and said it was "a sad state of affairs". "Virtually anyone living in Whittington is obliged to have the use of a car and people have to rely on local taxis now to go to hospital appointments," he said. "I know an elderly gentleman who had to go to hospital quite regularly had to leave the village. One or two other people don't appear to be able to get out anymore. "The company which ran the buses stopped doing it because they weren't being subsidised, and the local authority says it hasn't got the money to keep subsidising them and that is down to the government. "But the government have millions or billions to run HS2 trains, and our bus costs would be pennies compared to that," he added.
LGA transport spokesman Martin Tett said the figures show "just how much pressure many local bus services are under". He added it was paramount the government fully funds the Concessionary Fares Scheme in the Autumn Statement. Mr Tett said: "Years of underfunding of the scheme has forced councils to spend millions of pounds of taxpayers' money to subsidise the scheme. "This is now impossible with councils having to make savings while struggling to protect vital services like adult social care, protecting children, filling potholes and collecting bins."
The Department for Transport said it wanted to see services thrive, particularly in rural areas. A spokesman said: "While decisions on funding for local bus routes are a matter for local authorities, we provide around £250m to support services every year, serving local communities up and down the country. "Our Bus Services Bill will give councils powers to work in partnership with local transport companies to improve the service passengers can expect and boost bus use."
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