February 10, 2022 5.06 pm

Extra funding needed “to avoid a cliff-edge for the country’s bus networks”

The current funding is due to expire in April

Stagecoach, which runs services in Lincolnshire, told The Lincolnite that extra government funding is needed beyond the end of March 2022 “to avoid a cliff-edge for the country’s bus networks”.

Stagecoach East Midlands said emergency government funding has “kept bus networks on life-support” during the pandemic. However, the funding is due to expire on April 5, with passenger numbers still only about 70% of pre-pandemic levels, amid claims that a third of bus services in England could be axed within weeks, according to The Guardian.

Lincolnshire County Council said it is continuing to engage with the Department for Transport to make the case for public transport funding.

This comes after Stagecoach revealed earlier this week that there will be 100 new drivers on the roads in the East Midlands in the coming weeks, as it attempts to tackle delays and cancellations, including around 40 services cancelled due to staff shortages on Monday alone — and more later in the week.

The Lincolnite asked Stagecoach what impact it will have on the services in Lincolnshire if the funding isn’t extended, and what is being done to tackle it.

A Stagecoach East Midlands spokesperson said: “Bus passengers and local communities have benefitted from central and local government support for their services during the pandemic.

‘This support, combined with the steps operators have taken to protect jobs and services, has kept bus networks on life-support. However, it is critical that there is urgent confirmation of government funding beyond the end of March 2022 to avoid a cliff-edge for the country’s bus networks.

“The pandemic has also accelerated long-term changes to our economy and communities, including in people’s travel patterns. Even with any further government funding, bus networks across the country simply cannot return to their pre-pandemic form.

“We will continue to seek to maximise the scope of our bus networks, but they must also reflect those changed travel patterns.

“With the right public policies and investment, buses have a positive long-term future. They are central to government objectives around economic recovery, levelling up our regions and securing a net zero future for our country.

“We remain firmly committed to working with our local authority partners, who share responsibility for ensuring high quality bus networks, to maximise the opportunities ahead.”

When asked what can realistically be predicted in terms of a reduction in services if the funding is not extended, Stagecoach opted not to add anything further to its statement.

Nicole Hilton, assistant director for communities at Lincolnshire County Council, said: “We continue to engage with the Department for Transport and make representations through organisations like the CPT (Confederation of Passenger Transport) to make the case for public transport funding.

“We are also currently waiting to hear from the DfT on the council’s Bus Service Improvement Plan and whether any additional funding will be provided to fund local bus services in the county.

“We work closely with bus operators and are in the advanced stages of creating an Enhanced Quality Bus Partnership.

“The council already spends circa £5 million per annum on supporting local bus services in the county and will continue to do so.

“However, we also acknowledge that passenger demand levels and travel patterns have changed post pandemic and therefore revisions to both commercial and financially supported bus services is inevitable.

“As a county council, we are working with bus operators to work on strategies to encourage passengers to return to bus use, understand the impact of any reductions to Lincolnshire’s network and to determine what the county council can do if the supported funding runs out.

“We’ve already been providing some interim support such as supporting a bus network in the Boston area whilst an operator is unable to provide a Saturday service.”