Funding of £254 million will be made available to increase capacity on buses in order to help keep passengers safe during the Covid-19 crisis, and also to prepare for a recovering economy. This funding will form the basis of the Covid-19 Bus Service Support Grant (CBSSG) Restart package, replacing the Support Grant announced in March. CBSSG Restart applies across England, with the exception of London, and will be backdated to 12 May. In this article, Paul Clarke explains the scheme, which will be subject to monthly reviews by the Department for Transport (DfT) and the Treasury to ensure that full services can be operational as quickly as possible.

Operators will propose the services levels they expect to run. They will run up to 100% of scheduled commercial mileage for a typical non-school week excluding public holidays for the period of the scheme. They must consult and agree with the relevant local transport authorities (LTAs) regarding the services that should be provided, having regard to the critical concern of serving key workers such as NHS staff while ensuring that buses are not heavily loaded because of reduced service patterns.

Operators must also take all reasonable steps to respond and comply promptly with reasonable requests from LTAs to amend the services operated and the routes used by those services, hours of operation, vehicles used or levels of provision. They must supply data on service usage and operations during the period when they receive CBSSG Restart funding.

Reclaiming costs

A reconciliation process will take place in June, covering the period 17 March to 8 June 2020, and operators will need to be aware of costs that can be claimed under CBSSG Restart. For the most part, these terms and conditions remain the same as for the scheme announced in March, but changes include:

  • capacity will no longer be limited to 40–50% of scheduled commercial kilometres given that DfT is expecting operators to increase service levels as far as local transport authorities require as quickly as possible

  • operators will be required to submit evidence of the cost implications of removing staff from the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) early to receive their one-off payment alongside the reconciliation exercise in June

  • operators who did not receive CBSSG funding, but are eligible for Bus Service Operators Grant (BSOG) payments, will be able to claim funding from the new scheme.

Other items that can be claimed through the new scheme include costs of personal protective equipment (PPE) such as screens around the driver’s cab on buses and hand sanitiser, expenses involved in bringing buses out of Statutory Off Road Notification (SORN) and the cost of parts required to make vehicles fit for service.

What is expected of operators?

They must agree with the relevant LTAs which services are required at least on a four-weekly basis, to ensure that the services continue to meet local needs.

They will be expected to be able to demonstrate that they have engaged effectively with local transport authorities and met their reasonable requests.

Changes to bus timetables should be communicated to passengers clearly both on websites and at bus stops in line with the guidance issued by Transport Focus.

When to make a claim

Operators who have claimed CBSSG will be required to submit an updated declaration alongside the information required for the period 12 May to 8 June by Friday 22 June. For these operators, the DFT will aim to make payments covering the period 12 May to 8 June by the end of June.

Operators who have not claimed CBSSG, but who are eligible for BSOG, are being asked to complete the declaration by Sunday 7 June. An online survey link to complete the declaration for new operators is not yet available but is promised “shortly”. The DfT will contact eligible applicants to determine the best information to use to process their first payment under the new scheme.

All operators claiming CBSSG Restart funding, who are already claiming CBSSG funding, are required to submit a Declaration alongside their first period data submission. If they have not received the appropriate document, they are advised to contact CBSSG@dft.gov.uk. This email can be used for any specific queries about the new scheme.

CBSSG Restart claims for commercial services within the Greater Manchester border should be made to Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM) and not to DfT.

Calculating payments

For the first four weeks of the CBSSG Restart scheme (backdated to 12 May 2020), payments to operators will be based on the formula given below, where £1.0051/km is the initial CBSSG Restart rate for operators. The service level will be set at 55% for payments for the first four weeks.

Operators who are currently running service levels greater than 55% in agreement with the relevant LTAs and DfT will be paid at the actual service level they are providing, throughout all three periods.

For the second period, from 9 June to 6 July, payments to operators will be based on the formula given below. The service level will be set at 80% to reflect the expected continued ramp up in services, or at the actual service level.

Payments for period 3 and any subsequent periods will be based on “live” bus kilometres and patronage (excluding concessionary passengers) data for the previous period, as provided by the operator. The grant for period 3 will be calculated as in the box below.

Problems and compliance

If, in exceptional circumstances, an operator believes that its CBSSG Restart payments are at least 20% below the level required for it to provide up to 100% service levels, and that this will likely lead to the “financial distress”, it may request a review of the payments. DfT has said that it will not reasonably refuse an operator the opportunity to share such financial and operational information with the Department so that it may determine whether the operator’s CBSSG Restart payments should be adjusted. Based on the information provided by the operator, DfT will undertake a review of the payment rate, at its sole discretion.

If the expected payment to an operator based on the formulas in the payments section above are likely to result in the operator achieving a profit before tax during that period by 20% or more, they should inform DfT promptly, proposing a lower per km payment to reflect their anticipated profit before tax.

Operators will not be able to make payments to shareholders, unless the shareholders receiving a payment are directly involved in the day-to-day operation of the company and are being paid in lieu of salary, covering the period in which the operator was in receipt of CBSSG and/or CBSSG Restart funding. An open book reconciliation exercise will be used to assess compliance with the conditions of the grant and to ensure that operators have not derived a profit, or loss, before tax while in receipt of CBSSG and/or CBSSG Restart funding.

Last reviewed 5 June 2020