Bus Users is one of ten campaigning bodies to have signed an open letter to Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak.
The letter calls for an end to the uncertainty surrounding bus recovery funding due to end in March: “Operators need urgent clarity regarding the funding landscape if large-scale bus service cuts and frequency reductions for both commercial and local authority supported services are to be avoided.
“Otherwise we will see an irreversible drop in journeys by bus, contributing to economic decline, the inability of vulnerable people to access basic services, social isolation and increased private vehicle pollution and emissions.”
Joint letter to Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak MP
As leaders of a diverse range of organisations, we are writing to express our serious concern about future funding for local bus services.
Buses are an essential service for millions of people who rely on them for accessing education, employment and healthcare, shopping and leisure opportunities and visiting friends and family. In Metropolitan areas alone, bus networks provide a net economic benefit of over Â£2.5 billion, half of which reflects benefits to bus users including access to employment and amenities, and half of which is benefits to non-users, related to reductions in congestion and pollution and other factors. With low income households more reliant on buses, they are also a key enabler of levelling up.
Thanks to the Treasuryâ€™s support during the pandemic, local buses continued to transport key workers, keeping the economy and essential public services going. We are concerned however that the current recovery funding is due to expire at the end of March 2022 with no indication yet of whether it will be replaced and, if so, by how much. As operators need to provide a ten-week notice to the local authorities and the traffic commissioners before changing a route or timetable, decisions about service provision from April are being taken now.
The uncertainty about recovery funding has already led to discussions around service cuts, some of which have been documented in the media (for example in Tyne and Wear and South Yorkshire). Operators need urgent clarity regarding the funding landscape if large-scale bus service cuts and frequency reductions for both commercial and local authority supported services are to be avoided. Otherwise we will see an irreversible drop in journeys by bus, contributing to economic decline, the inability of vulnerable people to access basic services, social isolation and increased private vehicle pollution and emissions.
The pandemic has severely impacted on passenger numbers and, while last autumn bus use reached 80-85 per cent of pre-pandemic levels, the latest Omicron surge and plan B measures destabilised it again. Current passenger numbers therefore should not be accepted as the â€˜new normalâ€™ until operators have been given a fair shot at recovery, with no further social restrictions.
We urge you to maintain temporary funding for the local bus network beyond March, providing a bridge to a higher â€˜new normalâ€™ as passengers gradually return. Any support should be sufficient to allow a transition to a new longer-term funding regime for buses, capable of supporting the National Bus Strategyâ€™s ambitions for more, better and cheaper bus services.
Passenger numbers have also been affected by government messaging to avoid public transport at the start of the pandemic, which created a misleading perception that buses and trains cause uniquely high levels of virus transmission. Consequently, government has a responsibility to help the industry recover lost passenger numbers. We are calling for clear government messaging that public transport is safe, as well as sustained efforts across departments to promote public transport use, including Cabinet members being seen on buses and trains.
Paul Tuohy, CEO, Campaign for Better Transport
Graham Vidler, Chief Executive, CPT
Claire Walters, Chief Executive, Bus Users UK
Jonathan Bray, Director, Urban Transport Group
Crispin Truman OBE, Chief Executive, CPRE the countryside charity
Melissa Green, General Secretary, The Womenâ€™s Institute
Chris Todd, Director, Transport Action Network
Xavier Brice, CEO, Sustrans
Stephen Edwards, Interim CEO, Living Streets
Oliver Lord, Head, Clean Cities Campaign UK