Last week, the Save our Busescampaign released new research which showed one in five council-supported buses have been victims of spending cuts, revealing for the first time the real impacts of budget cuts on bus passengers. Unfortunately it looks like the story is going to get worse.
We have known for some time that the vast majority of local authorities in England were cutting back on funding for non-commercial, socially necessary buses, but our research was about trying to understand what that means in practice for bus users. Using the Freedom of Information Act we sent the same set of questions to all local transport authorities in England, except London.
We found that at least 1,114 buses in England, outside of the metropolitan areas, have been cut back, and two thirds of local authorities are either planning or are unable to rule out further cuts. On top of this central government funding for buses will be cut by 20 per cent next April. We fear that these bus cuts are just the beginning, and – hit by funding cuts from all directions – bus networks will struggle to recover.
Buses bring value to our communities and economy, by linking people to work, education, jobs, shops and services. This means that they are not only a vital public service, but they also keep the economy ticking. In total £36 million has already been cut from local authority spending on buses in England; this might sound like a lot of money but when compared with the deficit and other areas of the budget this number is dwarfed. To put this in perspective the Government found £250 million to increase bin collections. Although the money saved by cutting buses is relatively small, the impact on the national network of local buses has been huge.
Buses are often seen as a local issue that only affects local people. It is always frustrating when central government uses the localism agenda to deflect the responsibility for problems back down to local authorities. However our research has put together the jigsaw of bus cuts and shown that this is a national issue, affecting national objectives on health, education and employment. Unless ministers take action now and and make funding available, the damage being done to the bus network will be something we will all live to regret.
Sophie Allain is bus campaigner at the sustainable transport charity, Campaign for Better Transport.