95% of council DRTs running at a loss – survey
A survey has found 95% of demand responsive transport (DRT) services are running at a loss.
Councils are warning that demand responsive transport (DRT) services are not a substitute for government investment in traditional bus services.
A survey by the County Councils Network (CCN) says three in four local authorities are introducing DRT to fill the gap left by dwindling mainstream bus services. However, only 20% of those councils surveyed said these services are financially sustainable to operate in the future, with 95% of services operating at a loss.
Analysis from the CCN has found that bus services are at ‘historic low’ in county and rural areas, with more than one in every four bus services vanishing over the past decade, with 344 million fewer journeys in 2022 as a result of reduced services. Rural councils in particular are rolling out DRT services to fill the gap that dwindling bus services cannot.
However, the CCN argues that these services are not a substitute for new investment in commercial bus routes – and many say these services are unsustainable going forward. With county authorities continuing to face severe financial pressures, the survey finds that more than four in five councils believe long-term funding from government to subsidise existing commercial routes and reinstate lost bus services is necessary.
The survey received 24 responses, which is a response rate of 65%. It includes councils from all the regions within England. It found:
- Some 75% of councils in county and rural areas offer DRT, with 46% running up to five different services across their areas and 20% running over five different services. Some 15% of authorities are running over ten DRT services.
- The highest number of annual journeys by DRT was 300,000 in one county, followed by 98,000 in another area and 71,000 in another location. The lowest number of yearly journeys in one county was just under 2,000.
- The high cost of running these services means that no council operates DRT services at a profit. Some 95% of councils said their service operates at a loss, while just one council said they run services at a mixture of profit or loss. As a result, just 16% of councils said their DRT services were sustainable in the long term, with 25% of councils stating they were unsustainable, with 63% unsure.
- When asked what was needed to ensure a comprehensive and sustainable bus network in county areas, 88% of respondents said that long-term funding to subsidise existing and more routes.
The CCN is calling on the government to ensure new funding is directed towards county and rural councils, with their research showing these areas have seen the biggest levels of decline in passengers but the least funding from Bus Service Improvement Plans.
“While this survey shows DRT services play an increasingly important role, they are there to complement existing bus services – not a substitute for them” – Cllr Stephen-Giles Medhurst, Transport Spokesperson for the County Councils Network
Cllr Stephen-Giles Medhurst, Transport Spokesperson for the County Councils Network, said: “Reliable and frequent bus services are a lifeline for many residents in county and rural areas. However, CCN research has shown that traditional bus services are at a historic low, with one in four routes lost over the past decade.
“County authorities have had to innovate and step in – putting in place demand responsive transport to fill the gap left by the decline in commercial buses. They have proved popular with residents who use them, particularly the elderly, who need transport for essential journeys, such as shopping and doctors’ appointments.
“While this survey shows DRT services play an increasingly important role, they are there to complement existing bus services – not a substitute for them. With councils facing unprecedented financial pressures, sustainable investment from government in traditional bus services remains the priority in ensuring a comprehensive local transport network.
“With urban areas and cities prioritised in recent government investment, it is therefore critical that county and rural areas are prioritised for funding as part of government’s latest commitments to reinvest savings from HS2 in local buses.”