Action urged to protect local routes
SOUTH Gloucestershire's three MPs have called for a meeting with the government over funding for bus services.
Chris Skidmore, Luke Hall and Jack Lopresti have all signed a letter to Baroness Vere to raise concerns over the prospect of a reduction in service levels after the transition between two forms of government support for bus operators – the current Bus Recovery Grant and the incoming Bus Transformation Fund – which is due to happen in April 2022.
The MPs have told the minister: "We would like to request an urgent meeting with you to discuss how the Department for Transport can help protect our local bus services and manage the current mismatch between operators’ costs and actual revenue."
The MPs say they are concerned that, while the
£3 billion Bus Transformation Fund announced by the Chancellor in October would improve infrastructure, fares and services, it "may not be used to support existing bus services that cease to be viable when the Bus Recovery Grant ends".
The MPs said they were urging the West of England Combined Authority, which has strategic responsibility for services in the region, "to prioritise the provision of bus services for local people over bureaucracy".
Metro Mayor Dan Norris, who is in charge of the authority, raised concerns in November that, after collapsing during the pandemic, bus passenger numbers had only reached 70 per cent of the equivalent period in 2019 and were unlikely to pass 80 per cent of pre-Covid levels by the time the new funding arrangements are introduced.
Mr Norris warned that the Bus Transformation Fund "will not be able to be used to subsidise services that are not commercially viable" and said operators were planning "extensive reductions in service levels and withdrawals" if they did not receive new government support.
He wrote to the government to ask for an extension of the Bus Recovery Grant or for alternative funding to be put in place to cover the shortfall between operators’ costs and actual revenue.
Mr Norris said: "I do not have the resources locally to save the buses we need to save. Unless the Government act there will be huge disruption to passengers and there is a risk of irreparable damage to our local bus network."
The Labour mayor had asked all local MPs to agree a joint letter. While the Conservative MPs had written their own, the Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs in Bristol and Bath had signed a letter to Baroness Vere and Transport Secretary Grant Shapps.
The letter from Mr Norris and the Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs said: "We urge you to extend the Bus Recovery Grant or to put alternative funding in place to cover the shortfall between operators’ costs and actual revenue, until such time as passenger numbers recover to a sufficient level that will sustain a viable commercial operation."
A DfT spokesperson said Baroness Vere would reply to the MPs shortly their request for a meeting.
He said the department was "in close contact" with transport bodies but the Government "wishes to see the sector return to financial viability".