The English bus market
Two recent reports have highlighted the state of the bus market in England outside London. KPMG’s report for the DfT comments positively on investment and initiatives taken by operators and confirms that one size fits all is not a solution going forward. In the second report, the Campaign for Better Transport presents a concerning picture of reductions in local authority support for non commercial services outside the metropolitan areas.
The report on behalf of the DfT has gathered information to provide insight into the local bus market in England outside of London. There were three key areas of interest in this report: market trends, stakeholder objectives and alternative ways in which the government influences market outcomes. One of its key findings was that local bus markets show considerable variation reflecting differences in socio-demographic factors, land use, the relative attractiveness of alternative modes of transport, wider transport policy and government expenditure, as well as the performance of local bus operators.
Local authority and bus operator objectives are reasonably well aligned and centred on market growth, according to the report. However, sometimes differences exist between stakeholders on the best way to achieve those objectives. The study notes there is a range of policy levers available to the Government to influence demand and supply in local bus markets. In most instances, it claims, the policy levers available in deregulated markets enable local authorities and operators to meet their objectives. Where there is pressure for market reform, the study says there is a need to carefully consider the impact of interventions on passengers, operators and local authorities. It claims each local bus market is unique and each requires a tailored approach to help it deliver local objectives.
It looked at market trends and found passenger demand for bus services in England outside of London fell ‘almost continuously’ from the time of deregulation to the mid-2000s, since then passenger demand has remained ‘relatively stable’. A key observation was that approximately 20% of services are financially supported and tendered by local authorities. The research also noted that: levels of passenger satisfaction are high; fares have increased at a faster rate than general inflation but reflect changes in operating costs; and service mileage has fallen mainly as a result of a reduction in government funding for supported services. Operators have invested in vehicles and service quality, it notes, but overall performance is heavily dependent on levels of road congestion and local traffic management policies. Commenting on local authorities opting for the franchise approach, or Quality Contract Schemes, it claims this comes at the cost of imposing greater resource demands and financial and delivery risks on the authority.
The Buses Bill is expected to provide additional powers to local authorities to influence local bus services. For many local authorities the best option may be to do nothing, according to the report. Each local bus market is unique, according to the report and each requires a tailored approach to help it deliver local objectives.
Campaign for Better Transport (CBT) has highlighted what it describes as the ‘shocking state’ of the nation’s bus network in England outside metropolitan areas in its latest research. The report names Lincolnshire, Leicestershire, Derbyshire, Somerset, Dorset, West Berkshire, Wiltshire, Oxfordshire, Hertfordshire, North Yorkshire and Lancashire as areas set to make the largest cuts to their budgets over the next few years. These reductions are expected to total over £27m. The Campaign claims this reduction will leave many rural and isolated communities with ‘little or no bus services at all’.
The research comes as the organisation launches an interactive online map detailing the scale of the spending reductions to supported bus services by local authorities across England and Wales since 2010. The map allows users to see exactly how budgets for bus services have fallen over the past six years. It is based on Campaign for Better Transport’s Buses in Crisis report, which shows that since 2010, £78m has been axed from local authority bus funding in England and Wales resulting in over 2,400 bus services being reduced, altered or withdrawn. 63% of local authorities in England and Wales have cut funding for bus services in 2015/16, with 44% reducing or withdrawing services entirely.
The organisation’s new research has found the following cuts to budgets for supported bus services are proposed by local authorities for the 2016/17 or 2017/18 financial years: Lancashire (£7.5m), Wiltshire (£5.1m), Derbyshire (£4.8m), Oxfordshire (£3.7m), Leicestershire (£2m), Lincolnshire (£2m), Dorset (£500,000), North Yorkshire (£500,000), Somerset (£446,460), Hertfordshire (£390,000) and West Berkshire (£320,000).
Public Transport Campaigner at Campaign for Better Transport, Martin Abrams, said, ‘This new research shows that up and down the country utterly devastating cuts are now being inflicted on our vital bus services on a par with the swingeing and misguided cuts the Government and Dr Beeching made to our rail network which decimated services back in the 1960s. It is a bitter irony that many of the bus services being cut today are historic services that replaced the thousands of rail services that were cut by Dr Beeching, meaning more and more areas now have no public transport at all.’
‘With the Government’s promised Buses Bill on the horizon Ministers must explain exactly how this bill will help people and communities, particularly in rural and isolated areas, stay connected. Whilst the Buses Bill will enable much needed improvements for people in metropolitan areas, there is increasing worry and uncertainty as to what the future holds for bus users in non-metropolitan areas and with the scale of cuts we are now seeing, urgent action must be taken by the Government to ensure buses have the funding they need and deserve.’
Responding to the study, Local Government Association (LGA) Transport spokesman, Cllr Peter Box, said, ‘We have long called for the concessionary fares scheme to be fully funded to ease the pressure on stretched council budgets and protect cherished bus services.’
‘Years of underfunding of the scheme have forced councils to spend millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money to subsidise it. This is now impossible with councils having to make savings while struggling to protect vital services like adult social care, protecting children, filling potholes and collecting bins. Councils know how important buses are for their communities and local economies and are desperate to protect them. Instead, many across the country are reluctantly taking difficult decisions to scale back services and review subsidised routes as a result. The way the concessionary travel scheme is funded by Whitehall has long been unfit for purpose and has not kept up with growing demand and cost.’
This map is available at http://bettertransportmaps.org.uk/map-bus-cuts-2015.html