More than a third of top tier councils have cut bus subsides in the past year, leaving many holders of free bus passes with no buses on which to travel, the Association of Transport Co-coordinating Officers’ (ATCO) has said.
Its annual survey of councils’ passenger transport services found 36% of authorities cut support for bus services in 2016-17, and on average a 2.3% increase in spending would be needed in 2017-18 to maintain the current service levels.
Prices fell for the tenth consecutive year for school and special educational needs (SEN) transport, but operators withdrew higher numbers of unsubsidised routes and councils could afford to replace barely half of them.
Outside London’s regulated system operators can run services as they choose, with councils able to subsidise routes they deem socially necessary.
The survey found competition for contracts to run subsided local routes fell, with an average of 2.9 bids per contract, while 30.9% of contracts had only one bid.
Competition for school transport and SEN contracts also reduced, with an average of 3.7 and 5.9 bids per contract respectively and competition for around 90% of contracts.
John Carr, chair of ATCO’s performance executive, said “The results [show] that councils continue to face an uphill struggle to keep passenger transport services for those that most need them.
“Year upon year of Government spending restrictions and increasing costs for operators have left the reality of many elderly people without cars having free bus travel passes but no buses to use them on.
“Several councils, including some of the largest counties, have ceased to fund socially necessary bus services at all.”
Children’s services directors said in January the duty on councils to provide transport for pupils who live beyond walking distance of their school should be scrapped, citing a £737.1m cost to councils for school transport.
ATCO’s survey also found councils spent:
· mainstream school transport outside London and metropolitan areas £540m.
· special educational needs transport £470m.
· local bus services £280m.
· services such as dial-a-ride or taxibuses outside London £60m.
· adult social care transport outside London and metropolitan areas £165m.
· public transport information outside London £17m.
· English and Welsh national concessionary travel schemes for elderly and disabled people £835m.