Buses in the ‘Spotlight’

Possible cuts to subsidies for bus services were considered in an edition of the BBC South-West regional news programme ‘Spotlight’ broadcast on 22 July 2014. Here is a summary of its content.

Local councils are being warned to consider the impact of cuts to bus subsidies. The Transport Select Committee of MPs notes that cuts hit hardest the most vulnerable, e.g. elderly and disabled people, who rely heavily on public transport.

Torbay Council, in south Devon, is now considering cutting subsidies, which would put at risk services jointly subsidised by Devon County Council. A typical regular passenger who lives without a car in a village is just one of many who would become isolated without the local bus. Campaigners claim that the bus helps Torbay Council because passengers then spend money in the Council’s area. The bus operator says that if subsidies are cut it would consider fewer buses or higher fares.

The Department of Transport wants more services supported by volunteers and grants but the Transport Select Committee warns that it is unrealistic to expect volunteers to replace local services.

A public consultation is now taking place, but Torbay Council has to save £14M and many of its services are ring-fenced by law. Yet the Select Committee in London is saying, “You shouldn't be looking at the buses either”. When interviewed, the Chair of the Committee noted that cutbacks in funding for bus services also affect urban areas, including disabled and young people. She said that public transport is essential to get people to work, health facilities and social amenities so it’s vital for everyone. When asked to comment on the Torbay situation she wondered if transport operators could work more closely with the Local Authority and ensure that profitable services cross-subsidise socially necessary ones. Community transport cannot replace a massive cutback in services but perhaps it could be funded more, with pooling of facilities to take people to health centres, hospitals and schools.

See also this Rural Services Network article.

You may like to send us your feedback. An Ilfracombe resident did so, as follows:

It’s not just Torbay which is considering changes to funding. Devon County Council is going through a similar “consultation” to find ways of cutting subsidies. Methods being “discussed” are cutting or reducing subsidies, opting out of the National Bus Pass scheme, or restricting it only to residents of Devon.

Even wealthy areas such as Basingstoke are in trouble because Hampshire County Council has cut some subsidies, resulting in Stagecoach stopping late night services, and notoriously axing an entire service to an estate of elderly people. Despite attempts by Basingstoke Council to resolve the dispute, the local Stagecoach executive has refused to attend a public meeting to discuss the matter.

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