Government and County Council to keep buses on the road

Government and County Council move to keep buses on the road after 70% drop in passengers results in reduced services.

Bluestar bus station.135

The Government and the County Council have announced measures to support bus services during the coronavirus crisis.

As a result of the national lockdown bus passenger numbers have dropped across the country resulting in the reduction or suspension of many local routes but the Department for Transport have today announced that buses will continue to serve those who rely on them, thanks to a funding boost totalling £397m for bus operators.

At the same time Hampshire County Council say they will be to continue to support bus and coach operators for local bus contract reimbursement at the same levels as before the Coronavirus outbreak.

The Government says that the extra funding will protect bus services for people who need to travel, for example to get to work or buy food.

New funding of up to £167 million will be paid over twelve weeks under the new Covid-19 Bus Services Support Grant. As a condition of the funding, bus operators will be required to maintain necessary services at a level which is sufficient to meet much reduced demand, but also to allow adequate space between passengers on board. This is expected to be up to 50 per cent of normal service levels.

In a statement Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said:

“We have been very clear during the outbreak that the best way to stop the spread of the virus and protect the NHS, is to stay at home if possible.

Our buses are a lifeline for people who need to travel for work or to buy food – including our emergency services and NHS staff – and it’s absolutely vital we do all we can to keep the sector running.

This multi-million-pound investment will protect crucial local transport links across England, bolstering the sector and minimising disruption for passengers in the long term.”

Operators will also be required to keep passengers properly informed about revised timetables to ensure that people know which services are running and when.

The Government has also promised that £200 million of existing funding under the Bus Services Operators Grant will continue to be paid as normal even though not all services may run during this time. This funding is usually paid according to fuel consumption, and so the Government’s commitment to pay this on pre-Covid-19 levels will help ensure that bus companies are able to benefit despite fewer fare-paying passengers travelling.

This is in addition to up to £30 million of extra Government bus funding, originally earmarked for starting new services, which will instead be paid to local authorities like Hampshire to maintain existing services

The County Council has confirmed it will support Hampshire’s bus operators by continuing the bus subsidy, concessionary fares, and home to school transport payments where students use bus services.

In addition, in response to supermarkets offering priority opening hours for senior citizens, the County Council recently relaxed all restrictions on the Concessionary Travel scheme so that older people can travel by bus using their free pass before 9.30 am.

Cllr David Renard, the Local Government Association’s transport spokesman, welcomed the news that the DfT would be taking action to keep bus operators on the road, saying:

“Many key workers rely on local buses to get to and from work, whether that is nurses needing to get to hospital or social care staff to look after the most vulnerable.

“We are pleased the Government has acted on our call and announced emergency funding to help make sure vital bus services can continue to transport key workers to the frontline during the coronavirus crisis.