The government must put in place a long-term funding plan for buses, say Lib Dems who are raising concerns about the latest round of service cuts coming into effect next month.
Lib Dems have been fighting to save local bus services following the announcement that government would be withdrawing Bus Recovery Grant support. This funding has now been extended to October. However, the two further instalments of bus recovery fund are small compared to the previous funding and are shared across the whole WECA area.
In addition, passenger numbers are still not back to pre-pandemic levels and the industry is suffering a severe driver shortage. This means some further service reductions are coming into effect from 24 April.
Councillor Sarah Warren, B&NES Deputy Leader and Cabinet member for Climate and Sustainable Travel, commented:
“The latest round of cuts has been mitigated, thanks to local funding and intensive work behind the scenes by Councils, WECA and providers. Relatively few services have been affected this time.
“However, this isn’t a long-term solution. We can’t keep on cobbling together bits of funding and timetable tweaks to keep our essential bus services on the road. Also, a little extra local money doesn’t help bus companies tackle industry-wide driver shortages.
“We’re calling on the government to put in place a long-term, sustainable funding deal for buses, including support for driver recruitment and training schemes. We also need to accelerate the local Bus Service Improvement Plan, which will unlock a new deal for bus services. Local authorities have no direct control over privatised bus services, so we need the government to step up.
“It’s also a significant problem that the government has continued to encourage anyone with an HGV licence to take up or return to lorry driving regardless of the effect on the ambulance and bus services. We need to increase the pool of drivers, not simply move them about.
“Residents rely on public transport to access shops, services, employment or education. Without reliable – not to mention affordable – services, residents are forced into cars, exacerbating the cost-of-living crisis and creating a vicious cycle as passenger numbers decline further, whilst congestion and air pollution rise.
“As fuel costs rise and the climate emergency bites, excellent local bus services are a vital part of the solution to getting from A to B. The Lib Dems will continue to fight for our local bus services. Once lost, the risk is they will not be replaced.”
Newbridge Councillor, Michelle O’Doherty, added:
“WECA and First are trying hard to keep routes running, but the lack of drivers and the need to save a few minutes here and there is leading to some very strange, and probably counterproductive, timetable decisions.
“For example, the X39/39 is going to start its daily schedule from the Globe in the mornings rather than Bath Bus Station. This saves a little time and money, as the bus and driver can come from the nearby Weston Island Depot, but it will surely mean that some Bath passengers won’t be able to get that first bus of the day to Keynsham and Bristol.”
Bath MP, Wera Hobhouse, said:
“This round of cuts is just the latest kick in the teeth for Bath residents, and the government seems unable, or unwilling, to get a handle on the issues. Bus driver shortages, low passenger numbers due to rising Covid-19 cases and impending funding cliff edges will leave our services in a constant state of retreat.
“Boris Johnson promised a revolution for public transport to match services in London across the country. But his ‘Bus Back Better’ promise is now in tatters with the original funds slashed to a fraction of the money we need to make public transport an attractive alternative to individual car travel. We need a long-term funding commitment from government. But all we get is from the Tories is government by soundbite not a government delivering on its promises.
“If the government really aims to ‘level up’ all parts of the UK, then they can start by not levelling down our bus services.”