Bus cutbacks in Westcountry reach critical level as harsh austerity bites
Cuts to bus services have reached critical levels with parts of the Westcountry reducing spending by as much as a quarter.
Passengers in rural areas and small towns have been warned to expect further cuts to timetables and the removal of local bus services.
Almost half of all councils in the UK have cut bus funding in response to a reduction in government grants.
Torbay has reduced its spending this year by 25%, according to the Campaign for Better Transport (CBT), who also said Cornwall had axed almost a fifth, though the council says the figure is only 5%.
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Plymouth City Council said they have not made any reductions this year, as did Devon County Council, though it said there were plans to save £762,000 (4.8%) in the next financial year, 2014/15.
Martin Abrams, of the CBT, said local bus services faced “a watershed moment”.
“Cuts to bus services are reaching critical levels,” he said. “If Government doesn’t take action to help support buses, we will see whole networks disappear.
“They may not be as politically sexy as big transport projects but they make a significant difference to the economy, the environment and to wider society.”
Research by the campaign shows that 47 per cent of local authorities in England and Wales have cut spending on buses this year.
Councils in England cut £17 million from their bus support grants this year and have announced cuts of £48 million in years to come.
Peter Box, chairman of the Local Government Association economy and transport board, said: “Councils know how important local bus services are to their communities and have been working hard to protect them where possible.
“However, they are contending with 43 per cent budget cuts, reductions to bus-related grants and the spiralling cost of the concessionary travel scheme which government has never properly funded. Many councils can’t afford to subsidise bus companies to operate unprofitable routes at the levels they did.
“Where bus companies stop running services, councils will look at other ways of helping people who used them.”
Torbay, a Conservative authority led by the region’s only elected mayor, Gordon Oliver, has been struggling to pass on grant cuts and is currently attempting to slice £22million from spending next year.
It said it had almost halved its spending since the Coalition cuts began.
"In 2010/11 subsidies cost Torbay Council £210,532 but this has reduced over the years as bus routes have become commercial to a budget of £106,000 this financial year,” a spokesman said.
“One of the proposals for next year's budget is a review of subsidised transport, but these are draft budget proposals and no decisions have yet been made.”
Plymouth’s Labour-controlled city council said the bus subsidy budget has not been cut this year.
A spokesman said: “We actively promote bus travel as a sustainable mode of transport and currently support 14 services, offering links that would otherwise not exist.”
Tory Devon County Council said it has also not touched the budget for concessionary bus travel, public and community transport, this financial year but ‘unprecedented’ cuts are under consultation.
Cornwall Council, which is run by an Independent and Liberal Democrat coalition, rejected the 19% figure shown in the CBT report as ‘not accurate’, placing the figure at 5%
The authority said revenue support for bus services in 2013/4 will be £3.65m, excluding the contributions from schools transport and payments for concessionary fares.
This compares with £3.87m for 2012/2013, a reduction of 5.7% and not 19% as stated in the CBT report, a spokesman said.
Bert Biscoe, the council’s cabinet member for transportation and waste, said “We certainly agree that there is a need to reconsider the way in which the Government provides support to fund local bus services. Cornwall is currently re-tendering its supported bus network and we very much hope that operators recognise that, as well as facing increased costs themselves, the relationship in Cornwall between subsidised routes and commercial ones is often crucial to keeping access going.”