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Warning of potentials cuts to bus services as funding is axed

01 Mar 2024 4 minute read
Mold Bus Station. Photo by David Dixon is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Liam Randall, local democracy reporter

Concerns have been raised that upcoming changes to public funding for bus services will lead to routes being axed.

It comes as measures introduced to ensure bus companies could continue to operate during the Covid pandemic are set to come to an end.

The Welsh Government stepped in to create the Bus Emergency Scheme (BES) at the start of the pandemic as passenger numbers collapsed.

It saw tens of millions of pounds provided by the government to ensure bus companies could keep running.

The funding was removed in June last year, but with companies still struggling, a new scheme called the Bus Transition Fund (BTF) was provided to bridge the gap.

Grants

That initiative is now also set to come to an end this month to be replaced by grants for local authorities to tender for non-commercial services.

Councils in north Wales will collectively receive £5.6m as part of the Bus Network Grant (BNG).

However, senior officials from Flintshire Council have warned it is likely to lead to a reduction in services at a time when operators have complained of increased journey times because of the new 20mph speed limit in Wales.

In a report going to backbench councillors next week, Katie Wilby, the authority’s officer for streetscene and transportation said: “Despite the financial support detailed, recent experience has demonstrated that bus operators are finding it increasingly difficult to maintain the commercial viability of some bus services.

“Passenger numbers on public transport have declined significantly over the last three years, which is impacting on the sustainability of bus services across Wales.

“As such, we have observed a reduction in the number of bus operators over recent years, which is an issue across Wales.

“As a result, the current competition in the bus industry is extremely limited which has the potential to increase contract prices.”

Prioritisation

She added: “The estimated £5.6m will not necessarily be distributed evenly amongst north Wales authorities, but rather, each region will be required to meet to agree how the funding will be distributed according to individual local authority need.

“Given it is highly unlikely that north Wales will be able to afford to continue to fund every element of the current network, a prioritisation exercise will need to be undertaken independently by Transport for Wales.”

The report highlights figures which show that costs for the transport sector in the UK have risen by over 27 per cent since January 2015.

Ms Wilby said the council was “keen” to help address the decline in bus passenger figures, but said it would be difficult to achieve under the new funding model.

She added that it could also have a knock-on effect for school transport costs.

She said: “Despite Welsh Government’s commendable aspirations for an improved public transport network, the potential for inadequate funding, as a result of the BNG prioritisation exercise, is likely to result in significant changes to the bus network in Wales from April 2024.

“Should any non-viable commercial services not continue because of the procurement and prioritisation exercise, alternative transport would need to be provided for eligible pupils for the duration of their school attendance.

“This may have an impact on the school transport budget given alternative transport arrangements may be more expensive than a current bus pass utilised on commercial services.

“Operators have also raised concern with regards to increased journey times because of the recently implemented 20mph legislation change.

“As such, Welsh Government are working with operators to understand the cause of potential disruption and how this can be overcome.”

The report will be discussed by members of Flintshire’s environment and economy scrutiny committee when they meet on Tuesday (March 5, 2024).


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