There is a funding gap of over £5 billion in England for the new bus network system across the country. This funding is in the government’s plans to improve services in different parts of England in its bid to “level up” and reduce carbon emissions through swapping individuals’ use of cars with the use of public transport. However, local authorities and bus operators are asking for around £7.2 billion from the government to meet their plans set in March this year. This is one of the largest shake-ups in policy in the sector in decades.
The trade group: the Confederation of Passenger Transport based its figure on 40 areas, which accounts for 70% of bus journeys in the country excluding London. This far exceeds the £2.2 billion funded by the government this Autumn in its spending review.
This shortfall of funding would impact smaller cities the most as their deteriorating services will not be tended to for most of the funding would go to larger cities and their networks.
At the same time as setting up this new bus network system, the government is spending £3 billion extra on improving buses. This investment also includes £1.5 billion for emergency Covid-19 spending.
The demand to fill this funding gap has been put more in the spotlight now, following the government’s plans to wind back the scale of investment that they were going to give to the Northern Powerhouse and HS2 rail projects. These projects are essential for Boris Johnson’s plans to reduce the North-South divide in England therefore anything that reduces the capacity of these projects will undermine the government’s aims to “level up” the two regions in England.
Local authorities and bus companies were asked by the government to submit plans by the end of October on how to improve services through bus priority lanes, infrastructure, integrating fare systems and other measures to get access to funds. The government’s strategy was designed to end the years-long decline in bus use by simplifying the fare systems and providing more frequent and reliable services.
However, following the Covid-19 pandemic, the sector has struggled to build passenger numbers back after Covid-19 led to people being reluctant to use public transport. Companies have also been frustrated at the government’s slow pace in releasing money for zero-emission buses as promised
The number of bus journeys taken has dropped by around 60% in England in the year to March compared with a year earlier. More trips were taken in London but London operates under a separate bus franchise system than the rest of England.
Written by Florian Mihindukulasuriya Thiserage