Local buses are travelling almost 150 million fewer miles than they were 10 years ago and have fallen to their lowest level since the mid-Eighties, new analysis by the Local Government Association reveals today.
According to the latest annual figures, buses in England travelled a distance of 1.18 billion miles in 2018/19 – down from 1.33 billion in 2008/09.
The last time bus travel was lower was in 1986/87. Bus passenger journeys have also dropped by 318 million between 2018/19 and 2008/09.
The LGA, which represents councils, says an increase in fares – which are up 71 per cent in real terms since 2005 - and a £700 million annual funding gap for the concessionary fares scheme are contributing to the decline in services and bus usage.
Concessionary bus fares are a legal requirement of councils to provide free, off-peak travel for older and disabled residents. To meet the growing shortfall in funding, councils are increasingly being forced to reduce spending on subsidised bus routes and other discretionary concessions such as free peak travel, post-16 school transport, companion-free travel, or assistance for a young person’s travel.
Unless this is addressed, nearly half of all bus routes in England which currently receive partial or complete subsidies from councils will remain at risk.
Councils want to work with the Government to protect local bus services, which can be a lifeline for our most vulnerable residents, and “level-up” bus usage across the regions. Figures show that 25 per cent of overall bus mileage is in London alone.
The LGA is calling on the Government to use the forthcoming Budget to hand all councils oversight of local bus services so they can maintain and improve them and use it to fully fund the concessionary fares scheme.
This would ensure councils can protect local routes so older and vulnerable people don’t get left behind, provide more discretionary concessions to help reduce fares and encourage bus travel and, in turn, lower congestion and improve air quality.
Cllr David Renard, the LGA’s transport spokesman, said:
“Local bus services play an absolutely vital role in connecting communities and are a lifeline to older and vulnerable residents who rely on buses on a daily basis. They are also important in tackling congestion, air quality and climate change.
“Plans for a national bus strategy are an important step. The continuing decline in how far buses are travelling and the falling number of passenger journeys highlight the urgent need for it to include long-term investment in our country’s local bus networks.
“The funding gap faced by councils in providing the concessionary fare scheme is severely impacting their ability to step in and prop up bus routes that are otherwise at risk of ending altogether.
“Councils want to work with the Government to make sure every community in all areas of the country is able to access a local bus service.”