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Bus subsidy cuts attacked by council leader

06 Jul 2023 5 minute read
Steve Hunt Nptc leader Credit: Neath Port Talbot Council

Lewis Smith, local democracy reporter

The leader of Neath Port Talbot Council, Steve Hunt has hit out after a number of bus services across the borough have been cancelled due to a reduction in Welsh Government funding.

It came after Welsh Government announced details of the Bus Transition Fund last month, a scheme set to replace the Bus Emergency Scheme which comes to an end late in July 2023.

The Bus Emergency Scheme was designed to keep vital bus services across Wales running throughout the pandemic, and while Welsh ministers have promised that £43 million of funding will still be set aside to ensure “the majority”of bus services continue in the coming year, it looks like a number could still end up falling through.

The services currently impacted in Neath Port Talbot are run by South Wales Transport, and would include the cancellation of the number 202 bus from Neath to Port Talbot via Briton Ferry, and the 204 bus which goes from Neath to Skewen, from July 22.

There will also be a cut to the school service S50 which runs to Cefn Saeson Comprehensive, which although will still run to the end of the academic year, will not be reinstated in September. Additionally, there will be alterations to a number of other services including the 256, 251 and 252 starting on July 24.

In a statement on their website South Wales Transport said: “South Wales Transport are reluctantly ceasing our 202 and 204 bus services. The last day of operation will be Saturday 22nd July. Both services have been heavily supported by Welsh Government since the Covid pandemic and passenger levels have failed to return to pre-Covid levels.

“Welsh Government’s reduced support has created further uncertainty for the future of many bus services in Wales, and the Government has acknowledged that some further bus services will be reduced or withdrawn this financial year because of a shortage of funding.

“South Wales Transport understand that the local authority has contacted other bus operators in the area to assess if there is interest in operating the withdrawn services from 24th July.”

Further discussions

Council leader Steve Hunt said he had now requested further discussions with Welsh Government to safeguard further services for residents right across the borough.

He said: “The Welsh Government have informed me about their proposal for future funding for bus services in Wales. This could have significant implications for our bus routes here in Neath Port Talbot.

“There are several uncertainties around the proposals that needs clarification, and the lack of information makes it really difficult to determine what it means to our bus services. Regrettably due to these ongoing uncertainties some local bus companies have cancelled their routes already leaving communities without a bus service.

“To safeguard bus services in the short term I have accepted the funding provided by the Welsh Government for now, but I have asked for further discussions to establish appropriate funding levels that will protect our services in the long term, to ensure our residents can access essential services including hospital and doctors appointments, home to school travel, and travel to work.

“We will continue to work hard to address these concerns and push for better funding. I would appreciate your support and patience, and thank you for your understanding.”

Deputy Climate Change Minister Lee Waters spoke shortly after the announcement of the Bus Transition Fund, saying: “We are making £46m available from bus budgets to support BES and the Bus Transition Fund arrangements for the whole financial year. This funding will also keep the strategic TrawsCymru services running.

“Over the last few months, we’ve been working hard with the Regional Network Planning Teams and operators to plan and cost a network of bus services which can be delivered when the emergency funding ends.

“The funding available will ensure that the majority of the current services will be protected across Wales although some services may change to reflect different travel patterns following the pandemic.

“Regional Network Planning Teams continue with their detailed analysis of the bus network that will be delivered through our Bus Transition Fund. This work will be done at pace so that any potential future network changes are communicated with as much notice as possible. We will continue to work together to develop a longer-term sustainable funding model that bridges the gap to franchising.”

Intensive work

Cllr Andrew Morgan, Leader of WLGA, said: “There has been some really intensive joint work undertaken by councils with operators, Welsh Government and Transport for Wales to protect as many bus services as possible whilst passenger numbers recover. The financial position has been particularly challenging due to the huge increase in costs and reduction in passengers.

“WLGA welcomes the Welsh Government funding but acknowledges that we simply can’t protect every route. The Bus Transition Fund will enable us to move steadily away from emergency funding back towards a mix of commercial and supported services.

“I’d like to thank all of those involved in working to find a way forward and it will be really important that we do all we can to encourage people to use the buses so we sustain as many services as possible.”

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