Cuts to rural, evening and weekend bus services are damaging the ability of many people – especially the old, young or disabled – to participate in employment, education or voluntary work and to access vital services such as healthcare and retail facilities, MPs said on Thursday.In a review of England’s bus services outside London, the cross-party Transport Committee warned that even deeper cuts in bus services are likely in 2012–13, as local authorities struggle to deal with budgetary reductions.The committee called for the concessionary travel scheme to be preserved so that the elderly and disabled can continue to enjoy free bus travel.
Launching the report, Louise Ellman, chair of the committee said, “The government claims it wants to see better bus services with many more smartcard–enabled journeys. Yet, following the government’s spending review, we have seen a significant number of bus services withdrawn around the country and there is every indication that fares are set to rise well above the rate of inflation in some areas.“We know that over 70 percent of local authorities have moved rapidly to reduce funding for supported bus services, forcing most operators to withdraw services or push up fares -- or both -- as the English bus industry adjusts to the greatest financial challenge it has faced for a generation."For the most part it is rural, evening and Sunday services that are most affected, although in some areas every scrap of funding has been withdrawn from subsidised bus services. In some cases, whole sections of the bus network have been scaled back with little or no proper consultation.”The committee warns ministers they cannot wash their hands of all responsibility for local bus services.
Buses are the most available and frequently used mode of public transport in England, carrying two thirds of all passenger journeys, according to the committee's review.
In the 2010 Spending Review the government made three decisions that impact funding available for the English bus industry: local authority revenue expenditure was cut this year by 28 percent; changes were made to the formula for concessionary fare reimbursements; and the bus service operators' grant was cut by 20 percent from 2012-13.
Bob Crow, general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union, said: "This report underlines the scale of the unprecedented crisis that threatens to rip apart bus services in many parts of the country."Lifeline services, particularly in rural areas, face total collapse with fares on whatever is left set to rocket as a direct result of government cuts."Friends of the Earth’s transport campaigner Richard Dyer said: "Spending cuts have come as a devastating blow to those who depend on buses to get from A to B – elderly people especially.“Buses are also a greener, congestion-busting alternative to driving cars and it’s vital they’re given full financial support to keep the country mobile. The government should ensure councils prioritise funding for transport measures that reduce traffic, cut emissions and help to tackle pollution – as well as encouraging healthier lifestyles.”
Transport Minister Norman Baker said: "Nearly 80 percent of bus services outside London are commercially run so don't rely on direct funding from councils. There has been no cut in the financial support we provide for these services this year.
"We have also protected the concessionary travel scheme in full and provided £10 million of extra funding for community transport in rural areas."