Photo: our local service - is it under threat?
The Government's funding squeeze on councils, changes to payments for pensioners' bus passes and the threat of cuts to fuel subsidies could force rural bus routes out of business, according to the Campaign for Better Transport. The group said 70% of local authorities in England were planning major cuts in bus budgets.
Part of the problem is the cuts to the Bus Services Operator Grant - I raised concerns here earlier this year - there were fears the Government could phase out the rebate entirely. It seems to have opted for a 20pc reduction over three years but I am not clear on this. All these cuts make a confusing picture. A spokesman for Somerset County Council, for example, said yesterday, 46% of subsidies for bus operators would have to be cut over the next three years. That amounted to £3.7m at a time when the council was trying to find savings of £37m over the next financial year.
It is clear that the worst affected by the cuts will be people on low incomes and in rural areas, which are served by heavily subsidised services to encourage private operators to take on commercially non-viable routes.
The Guardian writes yesterday: "Although they receive less attention from politicians and the media than the rail industry, buses are a more popular form of transport – accounting for 7% of trips in the UK compared with 3% for trains. According to CBT, buses account for two-thirds of public transport journeys."
It does seem clear that it is not going to be easy in many areas.