LGA calls for bus funding overhaul

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The Local Government Association (LGA) has called for an overhaul of bus funding in the Spending Review to protect under-threat services.

In a major report, LGA, which represents more than 370 councils in England and Wales, called for a package of funding reforms and less red tape, allowing councils to do more to support bus services. The organisation cited figures indicating that 500 bus routes nationwide are being reduced or altered every year, about half of which are stopped altogether.

Funding for the concessionary bus scheme has been reduced by the Government by 27% over the last five years. The LGA said this means councils are being forced to subsidise the scheme at the cost of other discretionary subsidised bus services – such as free peak travel, community transport services, reduced fares and post 16 school transport.

Councils are working with residents to organise car-sharing schemes, dial-a-ride or community transport initiatives and join up services like home-to-school transport and other bus services.

The LGA is calling for the concessionary fares scheme to be funded in full, and said that handing control over the Bus Service Operators’ Grant to councils would also allow them to get better value for money by targeting services that really need subsidising.

The LGA also called for councils to be given more powers to:

  • Enforce moving traffic violations, such as illegal U-turns and box junction offences, to tackle congestion hotspots that delay bus services;
  • Have the option of franchising services;
  • Introduce area-wide ticket schemes;
  • Remove licenses from rogue operators who run substandard vehicles and unreliable services, alongside Traffic Commissioners; and
  • Be given better access to information about fares and service performance.

LGA Transport spokesman Cllr Peter Box said: “Councils are doing everything they can to support bus users but are fast reaching a tipping point. There are limited opportunities to make further savings and reductions in funding for concessionary bus fares continues to impact on many services for the elderly, disabled and commuters, for whom bus routes are a lifeline.

“Councils are being forced to dip into their discretionary pots to prop up statutory services. Local authorities are trying to dig deep to subsidise transports costs for their communities while struggling to protect vital services like caring for the elderly, filling potholes and collecting bins. As a result, many across the country are reluctantly taking difficult decisions to scale back services and review subsidised routes.

“What is needed is a total overhaul of the way buses are run and funded as part of the Spending Review to protect cherished bus services and ease the pressure on stretched council budgets.”