Rural villagers fear being cut off if bus services are axed due to dwindling passenger numbers

  • Watch a report by ITV Anglia's Matthew Hudson

Residents of rural villages say they fear being cut off if bus services are scrapped by companies struggling with dwindling passenger numbers.

The number of people using buses has fallen dramatically since the start of the pandemic - and remains down by a quarter, according to the government.

Now bus bosses are warning services could be axed if people do not start using public transport once more, because government money which helped keep services running during the pandemic is coming to an end.

Andy Carter, 60, relies on his local bus service from the village of Guilden Morden because he can no longer drive due to medical reasons, and said any withdrawal of routes would have a huge impact.

"If the bus is cut we've got to move," he said. "We've already considered moving because we've got a feeling it would be cut."

For Mr Carter, and many others, Service 17 is the only transport link they have to the town of Royston in Hertfordshire.

Before the pandemic, the 17 would have been full just about every journey with 30 people sitting and up to another dozen standing as it reached Royston, according to A2B Travel Group managing director Brian Clifford.

On Monday, there were only five passengers aboard as ITV Anglia joined them.

A2B operates services across Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire, Essex and Suffolk. Some of its routes have always received subsidies to cover places off the beaten track.

But not Service 17 - it has to make a profit.

Last year bus companies in England received a £400m bailout to ensure that services could keep running.

Service 17 is one of those which has been propped up during the pandemic but with bus recovery grants due to end next month, its future is in doubt.

Mr Clifford believes public transport was demonised when Covid struck. He told ITV News Anglia passenger numbers are on average down 18% across all services.

He said: "I think instead of encouraging people to be safe and sensible we did simply scare them into staying off all forms of public transport. Not just buses - buses, trains, taxis, anything. And that fear is now an ingrained fear that we have to coax people back out of."

He added: "Villages like Guilden Morden, Steeple Morden, they have no transport links - they have nothing, absolutely nothing, except for one bus every two hours.

"So if that was to go then the village is axed. The village has no links to nowhere."

The latest government figures show rail, bus and even car journeys are nowhere near returning to what they were two years ago.

According to the Department of Transport bus use is down to 74% nationally.

Meanwhile national rail use is down to 51% and car use is around 87% of what it was.

There are fears that with more people choosing to work from home, and public transport seeing reduced demand, some rural bus services in our region could be under threat.