Large-scale cuts to subsidised passenger transport from April 2025 have been proposed by Hampshire County Council
Hampshire County Council is consulting on large-scale cuts to subsidised bus services. It currently supports a number of passenger transport services across the county, including various dial-a-ride and ‘Connect’ services and taxishares as well as subsidised bus routes. The County Council spends around £2.7 million per year through its passenger transport budgets directly supporting community transport and local bus services, but is under pressure to reduce that amount and is proposing wide-reaching cuts in its passenger transport provision.
The Council currently operates a Connect dial-a-ride and Call and Go service, a bookable door-to-door accessible transport service which provides an alternative to a bus network for individuals who find it difficult to use or access public bus services, live more than 400 metres from an available bus service/stop, or have no access to a car and have no bus service when they need to travel. The Council says these services are costing it around £500,000 per year, with around 54,000 individual trips made in 2022/23. Users are charged a fare of £6 for a local return return journey and £7 for a longer return journey.
It also operates Connect taxishares, which run to a bus-style timetable but use a taxi or private hire vehicle, and only operate once a booking has been made. This service costs the council around £157,000 per year, and around 18,000 individual trips were made in 2022/23 at a fare of £1 per journey. The Council also funds group minibus hire services, as well as a ‘Wheels to Work’ moped hire scheme in certain districts.
In addition, there are 58 bus service routes in Hampshire supported financially by the County Council, at a cost to it of around £800,000 per year, in addition to a £1.1 million grant from central Government, while a further 35 services are funded through other sources, such as housing developers, other local authorities and the school transport budget. Together, the 93 services provide around 9% of bus journeys in the country.
The County Council is proposing to reduce the amount of money spent on the its transport provision by around £1.7 million each year by withdrawing all Hampshire County Council funding (around £900,000) from the Connect dial-a-ride, Call & Go, taxishare and group hire services as well as the Wheels to Work moped initiative, as well as withdrawing around £800,000 of Hampshire County Council funding for bus services and around £75,000 of additional funding for the Concessionary Travel Scheme, which would mean the County Council no longer providing any additional entitlements above those prescribed by the national concessionary scheme.
Explaining its position, the County Council said that until a sustainable long-term national funding solution can be found to address the intense financial pressures it, along with wider local government, faces, it has no choice but to consider changing or reducing services in some areas and propose options for savings, adding that withdrawing the services could contribute around £1.7 million each year towards addressing its overall anticipated £132 million budget deficit from April 2025.
The Council has launched a consultation on the proposals, which it says will help it to understand whether it is appropriate to take them forward for approval. If proposals are approved, it would mean Hampshire County Council passenger transport funding for community transport services and supported local bus services would be withdrawn by April 2025, as would the extra concessionary fares scheme contribution.
The proposed changes would therefore mean that all non-statutory community transport provision would be withdrawn in the county by April 2025. Assessing the potential impacts, the council said it recognises that the withdrawal of funding could mean the loss of some bus services if they cannot continue commercially, and that the reductions would be more likely to impact the more rural areas of Hampshire as well as older and disabled people, who represent two thirds of all journeys on Hampshire’s supported bus network.
The council notes in its proposals that bus route reductions may have an impact on school transport provision which it is legally obliged to provide, since 15% of all journeys (some 250,000 annual trips) undertaken on subsidised services are for educational purposes. It also recognises that although only 9% of all bus services in Hampshire are subsidised, the reductions in funding received by operators could result in the average cost of commercial, non-supported routes increasing as there would be fewer routes to spread overheads across, which could lead to some non-supported routes no longer being viable for operators to run.
Exploring its options, the council says that the option to maintain the current level of funding is not practical because of the scale of the budget pressures and the legal requirement to operate within its budget. The Council added that increasing the fares for users of the at-risk services to cover the full costs would be unlikely to be successful, as it does not expect there to be sufficient demand to make the service viable at prices required to cover costs.