Cuts to local bus services 'inevitable' following covid-19 pandemic as review deadline approaches

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Cuts and revisions to bus services are inevitable, according to the organisation representing operators in the Thames Valley, South and South East.

The comments from the Confederation of Passenger Transport come as a review is currently being carried out over which services will continue once pandemic-related Government funding runs out in October.

ITV News Meridian has learned all councils and bus operators across the South must come up with their new bus service by 1st July or risk losing out on final payments.

Passenger numbers average 85% of what they were before covid-19, with leisure travel seeing a particular bounce back, however commuter and concessionary travel, in some areas, hasn’t fully recovered.

Brighton and Hove buses are trying to encourage as many people as possible onto its services Credit: ITV News Meridian

Graham Vilder of the Confederation of Passenger Transport, which represents bus operators, said,

"It's inevitable that in most places there will be some reductions in services. But operators are working hand in hand with local authorities in that moment to make sure that we're focused on delivering services where people want to go in the future, and that we're working really hard with local authorities to make sure that every community continues to have access to the bus service in the future.

"We do need to adjust our timetables to take account of the fact that some aspects of life have fundamentally changed after the pandemic. And commuting in particular is very different to what it was three years ago."

The rising cost of fuel is placing additional financial pressures, putting the viability of some routes at risk in a commercial industry.

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Bus operators are said to be focussed on keeping communities connected, by merging routes or reducing the frequency of some buses.

The Go-Ahead group, parent company of Metroline in Crawley, Go South Coast in Southampton, Oxford Bus Company and Brighton and Hove buses, said,

“We can change the frequency of services, change routes to reflect new patterns of demand or use different sizes of bus on existing services. In some areas, there will be fewer buses to reflect the fact that there is less demand. In others, there will be an enhanced service or introduction of new vehicles.”

While West Berkshire council said, “We are working with the bus companies to try and increase passenger levels to reduce the need for any revisions, although rising costs in the bus industry are also making commercial operation difficult.”

Oxfordshire County Council said, “As commercial entities, bus companies are entitled to determine the size of their networks but Oxfordshire County Council is proactively working with them to minimise any impact on passengers as a result of the financial challenges facing the sector.”

Silviya Barrett from the Campaign for Better Transport Silviya Barrett, says the group has concerns about any potential cuts,

“Now is precisely the wrong time to be cutting bus services. We want to encourage people back to busses after the pandemic, and we don't want to alienate any more people. So any cuts will have precisely the opposite detrimental effect.

"And we need to be encouraging more people to use busses for environmental reasons to make sure that we can meet our net zero objectives. That won't happen if we're pushing more people to use for the course."