Funding for bus services ‘now at critical level’

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PUBLIC funding for bus services across Yorkshire has dropped by more than 10 per cent in the last two years, a transport campaign group has claimed.

A report by the Campaign for Better Transport (CBT) says cuts to bus services across the country are now reaching “critical levels” and that up 47 per cent of local authorities have reduced their support for buses for 2013.

It said three authorities, including Darlington and Hartlepool, have already stopped supporting bus services and others, such as North Yorkshire, are considering cuts.

According to the study, Buses In Crisis, the drop from £7.87 spent per person on bus services in Yorkshire in 2011-12 to £7.05 in 2013-14, a fall of 10.4 per cent, is the fourth highest of the nine regions in the country.

But despite the fall in funding, so far in this financial year only seven bus services have been altered or withdrawn in the region.

The report says 15 per cent of all bus spending in the country is spent in Yorkshire, despite the region only having 12 per cent of the population.

Based on responses received under the Freedom of Information Act, the report’s authors say four local authorities in the region have cut their spending on bus services this year.

These include North Yorkshire County Council cutting funding by eight per cent, the West Yorkshire Integrated Transport Authority by 11 per cent and East Riding of Yorkshire by seven per cent.

CBT public transport campaigner Martin Abrams said: “Cuts to bus services are now reaching critical levels. We have seen services lost year on year and with further deep cuts planned next year, some authorities may stop supporting buses altogether.

“This is a watershed moment. If Government doesn’t take action to help support buses, we will see whole networks disappear. Politicians, both locally and in Westminster, need to understand how important buses are.

“They may not be as politically sexy as big transport projects but they make a significant difference to the economy, the environment and to wider society. It would be a disaster if whole networks were allowed to disappear.”

The report says in the last year there have been £17m of cuts in the budget for support buses in England. It recommends a shake-up in the way bus services are funded from the current model where most support comes from local authorities and the Department for Transport.

It said: “Buses make an important contribution to the objectives of a number of other departments including Work and Pensions, Health and Education.

“In future, access to key facilities and services should be paid for by pooled funding from across those departments that benefit from good bus services. This would be ring-fenced and distributed to local transport authorities.”

North Yorkshire County Council last month ended a consultation on plans to reduce bus subsidies by 25 per cent, the equivalent of £1.1m a year, as part of a range of proposals to balance budgets.

The authority spends about £4.4m each year subsidising the 20 per cent of bus journeys that are not commercially viable, ensuring rural communities keep a transport lifeline. It can no longer afford to do this but has pledged to ensure every effort is made to retain basic services to the closest market towns wherever possible.

A petition calling for a rethink of the proposals to withdraw subsidies for the 131, 132 and 134 services and replace them with dial-a-ride services, has been signed by 2,155 people.

Campaigners say the proposals will hit services in areas including Craven, Hambleton and Richmondshire.