The new scheme brings together under the management of local authorities funding for bus subsidies and new community transport projects.
Ms Essex said: 'Local bus and community transport services are vital for many people to reach essential services and facilities, including healthcare, leisure and social events, or simply keeping in touch with friends and relatives.
'In addition to promoting mobility and social inclusion, this funding will help make local transport services increasingly attractive and realistic alternatives to the car for more journeys.
'Combining the former bus subsidy grant and Welsh rural transport grant puts into practice the objective of promoting integration within, and between modes. From now on, local authorities' local transport plans and their policies will be better able to reflect the local transport needs of their communities whether through buses or the less conventional and often more responsive community transport option.'
'Next year's combined budget of£6.3m represents an increase of 20% on the equivalent budgets in 2000-01. More than£300,000 is being made available next year to meet anticipated commitments under the former rural transport innovation grant and Welsh rural transport grant schemes, and I have also decided to continue to fund the existing post of a rural transport officer for Wales until March 2004, together with an associated telephone advice line.'
'The assembly will continue to work with the Community Transport Association to ensure that opportunities for enhancing the role of community transport can be taken forward. We are also establishing a sub-group of the Welsh Transport Forum to review community transport in Wales. I look forward to the group's report with great interest.'
The bus subsidy grant scheme was introduced in 1998-99, when local authorities were allocated£2.25m under the rural bus subsidy grant scheme. In 1999-00 the budget was increased by more than 120% to£5m and the scheme extended so that authorities had discretion to spend up to£2m of the total on services in rural or urban areas. The balance of£3m had to be used in rural areas.
In 2000-01, when£5m was again available, the distribution of£3m for services in rural areas again reflected the sparsity of population in electoral wards (i.e. those in which the population density is less than four persons per hectare).
The balance of£2m was determined on the basis of total population figures. This allocation by formula was agreed with the Welsh Local Government Association, and is being retained for 2001-02.
Full details of the grant allocations in 2001-02 under the new local transport services grant scheme and the conditions attached to it are set out in Special Grant Report (Wales) 2001.
Copies of the Report and the associated Notes for Guidance are being sent to local authorities. The allocations to individual authorities are set out in the attached table. Indicative figures for 2002-03 and 2003-04 are£7.3m and£8.3m, respectively.
LOCAL TRANSPORT SERVICES GRANT 2001-02
Isle of Anglesey
Neath Port Talbot
The Vale of Glamorgan
Rhondda Cynon Taff