BBC publishes report on bus mileage decline

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The BBC has published analysis of mileage decreases in the UK bus industry, which were calculated using bus statistics from the Department for Transport (DfT).

The BBC Shared Data Unit claimed that 134 million miles of coverage has been lost over the past decade alone, a decrease of 8%, though it said passenger numbers have increased marginally (0.7%) over the same period.

In England, it said the scale of the bus network has fallen to levels last seen in 1991, though passenger numbers are now 8% higher than they were then.

The figures show big regional variations, with the North West losing 23% of miles from its network in a decade while London, the East of England and the South East were the only English regions to see bus mileage increase over the past decade.

London now accounts for a quarter of all bus miles travelled in England, the highest proportion since this measurement began in 1982. Outside the capital, England’s metropolitan areas saw mileage drop by a tenth since 2013/14, which it said was linked to increasing congestion. Rural areas saw mileage cut by 7.8%.

Wales has seen the biggest drop in bus coverage over the past decade, with annual bus mileage falling by a fifth between 2006-07 and 2016-17, a loss of 15 million miles. A spokesman for the Welsh government told the BBC that the figures did not reflect growth on some local services and the longer distance TrawsCymru network of buses.

Scotland’s network shrank by 15% over the past decade, with the greatest decline in the South West and Strathclyde, which saw bus mileage fall by more than a fifth in 10 years. The North East, Tayside and Central, which covers Dundee and Aberdeen, saw an increase in mileage.

Northern Ireland’s bus network, which is state-owned, covers 6.4% fewer miles each year than it did 10 years ago, a loss of 2.6 million miles.

The BBC claimed that falling subsidies ‘are only part of the picture.’ It stated that excluding London, all English regions have seen bus subsidies reduced in the past four years, losing a third (32%) of their subsidised miles on average, but at the same time, bus companies have also been reducing the number of commercially-run miles in the North, while increasing them in the South.

The BBC also claimed that some areas have seen public sector investment pay off, highlighting Nottingham, which has the third highest bus use per head of population in England, though it added that the authority there spends more on buses each year than the whole of Tyne and Wear, which has four times the population. However, the same figures sourced by the BBC show that while commercial mileage in Nottingham has increased by 8.1%, patronage declined by 4.7% over the same period.

Meanwhile, in Bristol where there is a partnership between commercial operators and the local authority, mileage increased by 16.8% and patronage by 28.7%. While London’s mileage share of the UK may be large, it has seen patronage decline of 10%.

The CPT was one of the organisations to respond to the report. It said: “In the vast majority of cases, cuts to bus services have occurred where local authorities have withdrawn financial support to non-commercial routes. Returning to a regulated market would put further intolerable strain on those budgets.

“Recent research into the demand for bus journeys shows that most challenges arise from external factors facing the industry. No single organisation can tackle all the issues.

“It is unfair to say that operators are risk-averse. Where routes become unviable, sound business decisions need to be taken and there are many examples of operators continuing to operate lightly used and uneconomic services, or developing innovative ways of meeting passengers’ needs. Evidence shows that where bus operators and local authorities work together in partnership, passengers benefit from more stable services and lower fares, whilst at the same time support wider community objectives.”