Transport Committee urges continued financial support for bus services in England

Posted: 23 June 2023 | | No comments yet

The UK Transport Committee emphasises the need for ongoing financial support to enhance bus services throughout England, ensuring efficient and accessible transportation options for the public.

Transport Committee urges continued financial support for bus services in England

The Chair of the Transport Committee, Iain Stewart MP, has urged the UK government to maintain its focus on improving bus services throughout the country. Stewart expressed his support for the recent announcement of additional funding until 2025 and called on the Department for Transport (DfT) to continue collaborating with England’s councils to upgrade local bus services.

The statement coincided with the release of the DfT’s response to the committee’s report on the National Bus Strategy. The Strategy, introduced in March 2021, aimed to enhance services and encourage a shift from private cars to buses, which experienced a decline in usage during the pandemic along with a decrease in service quality. The government’s net zero emissions policies also emphasised the importance of reducing carbon emissions by reversing the trend of car usage.

Transport Committee Chair Iain Stewart MP said: “Our report warned that if the government did not loosen the purse strings and give at least some BSIP funding to all areas of the country, a two-tier system could emerge, with some areas having notably worse services than others in neighbouring towns and cities. Although the government did not explicitly acknowledge this warning, we are pleased it appears to have taken the idea on-board, and that the latest round of funding saw those councils that missed out last time getting some of the pie. We still believe the government should find more funding beyond 2025 to truly transform local services in the way its original strategy envisaged. We look forward to hearing the outcome of the evaluation of BSIP funding that DfT now plans to conduct.”

The Committee raised concerns regarding the Bus Service Improvement Plans (BSIPs) and the rejection of 60% of bids from a £1.1 billion fund. In response, the DfT recently announced a second round of BSIP funding totalling £160 million to ensure that all councils received some funding. However, DfT’s response did not commit to significant further funding as recommended by the Committee.

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Furthermore, DfT’s response also did not directly address doubts raised by MPs regarding the government’s target of having 4,000 zero-emission buses on UK roads by the end of the parliament. Thus, the Committee has urged DfT to develop a clear plan for transitioning to zero-emission buses and providing long-term funding for rural routes and charging infrastructure.

The Committee has also emphasised the need to reform the Bus Service Operators Grant, which currently does not incentivise operators to transition to zero-emission buses. DfT has responded by stating its intention to launch a consultation on reforming the grant and exploring mechanisms to support the adoption of zero-emission buses.

In addition, the Committee’s report has expressed disappointment at the lack of progress in providing socially and economically necessary bus services, as outlined in the National Bus Strategy. DfT’s response indicated that new guidance would be published during this parliament, and the possibility of a statutory requirement would be considered if the BSIP process does not yield improvements.

Regarding municipal bus companies and franchising, DfT also acknowledged the need for new guidance on franchising and stated that a call for evidence on allowing new municipal bus companies would be launched during this parliament. DfT’s response also highlighted the promotion of enhanced partnerships (EPs) with local bus firms, while acknowledging that EPs are a “new and untested mechanism” that requires careful monitoring.