Payments to continue at the rate which was forecast prior to the impact of COVID-19 in order to preserve services
The Scottish Government has said it will provide bus operators with additional financial assistance to maintain essential services. This funding is intended to offset the impact that reduced demand is having on the viability of local services for key workers and to protect the industry for the future.
The intention is to maintain concessionary travel reimbursement and Bus Service Operator Grant (BSOG) payments at the levels forecasted prior to the impact of COVID-19. This would typically cost the Scottish Government over £260m every year. Operators will receive additional payments matching the difference between actual payments and those previously forecasted levels. The arrangement will be kept under review.
The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) has issued correspondence and guidance for local authorities to ensure that they continue to pay operators of home to school transport, to help ensure bus operators can provide these services once the outbreak is over. COSLA is also developing further guidance for local authorities and their partner providers which will assist supported bus services.
Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity, Michael Matheson, said: “We are doing everything we can to support our bus industry in this unprecedented time. This action will enable critical services to continue to run, helping our key workers get to their work and to carry out their essential roles across the country. I also recognise that our bus industry will be vital to our economic recovery – and we must take steps to protect that recovery now.
“People are changing their travel patterns to help reduce the spread of coronavirus and we’ve seen a real dip in public transport use across Scotland. Figures from Transport Scotland analysts show that concessionary bus journeys in particular had dropped by 81% in the last two weeks – and I would expect this to fall even further in light of the latest guidance.
“Over the next few months we will effectively make up the difference in concessionary travel and Bus Service Operator Grant payments. We will allow operators to access the £260m that we spend every year on supporting bus services, irrespective of the decline in passengers. This will help protect the industry, support our key workers and ultimately assist the nationwide response to the COVID-19 outbreak.
“I want to also thank the many public transport workers right across the sector who are enabling key workers to get to their places of work every day. Even though services have been scaled back due to reduced demand, I know many are working tirelessly to maintain punctual services our key workers can rely on.”
Paul White, Director for CPT in Scotland said: “CPT welcomes the government’s commitment to continue Concessionary reimbursement and BSOG funding at pre-Covid-19 levels. This support is a vital element of the measures required to allow coach and bus operators to continue to operate lifeline services through this period of social isolation.
“Operators are working tirelessly to ensure that Scotland’s bus network is robust enough to keep communities connected, providing socially necessary services and facilitating commuter trips for essential workers. To this end, we will continue to prioritise key routes such as those that serve medical centres and hospitals, with timetables that recognise NHS shift patterns.
“We need the coach and bus sectors to survive this period so that, once we return to normality, Scotland’s citizens have access to the public transport that is so fundamental to so many of our daily lives. This announcement demonstrates that the Scottish Government recognises the key role bus services play and will greatly help support Scotland’s bus passengers.”