In a recent report the Campaign for Better Transport has highlighted a number of concerns over a year on year reduction in spending on bus services. This report follows a letter the Campaign for Better Transport wrote to the Chancellor, George Osborne, expressing concerns over threats to government bus funding in the upcoming Spending Review.
The report highlights the continual cuts to local authority bus services, pointing out that:
“this year 63 per cent of local authorities in England and Wales have cut funding for bus services, whilst 44 per cent have removed or withdrawn services. Local authority funding for supported bus services has fallen by £22.6 million. Around 425 routes have been reduced or altered, of which 145 have been withdrawn altogether”
As a portion of money local authorities use to subsidise socially necessary bus services also funds many community transport services we are concerned that further cuts could have an impact on community transport, as well as scheduled services.
Fundamentally, it is our belief that bus services perform a vital social good, in their letter and subsequent report the Campaign for Better Transport highlight the negative impact cutting services could have on elderly people. We know from national research the importance of bus transport in reducing social isolation for elderly people, a recent Age UK report highlights the fact that 1.45 million people over 65 find it difficult to travel to hospital appointments; this is a statistic that will only rise should there be further cuts to bus transport. From our own experience in community transport it is apparent how valuable, affordable and accessible bus networks can be for some elderly people.
Another major concern highlighted in the report is that there have been fall of 27 million in the number of bus journeys taken in England since last year. Cuts to bus services are having a demonstrable impact on the number of passenger journeys and this is clearly unsustainable. We know that bus services can be more sustainable where community transport is used to complement mainstream services, and we believe better integration of community transport services could have a great benefit to local communities.
We are particularly concerned that in the 30 years since the Transport Act local bus passenger journeys outside of London have decreased by 37%. Both the letter and the report highlight the effects proposed cuts to bus funding could have on younger people who rely on transport to go to and from work. Bus travel plays a key role in supporting local employers and employees, and as the letter points out, is key to helping ‘hardworking people’ access employment.
Bus services have an obvious social function, and in looking at the effect of bus service cuts it is necessary to consider the impact that these changes could have on health services, welfare services, and the ability for people to access education. The Campaign for Better Transport argue that a long term ‘Connectivity Fund’ could be funded from across government to support innovation in transport.
We have seen first-hand the transformative effect that transport can have on individuals whether that be for education, in a healthcare setting, or to alleviate social isolation and loneliness. Ongoing discussions on bus funding should have the social value of bus transport at the forefront of any considerations, alongside the demonstrably positive economic impact investment in bus travel has.