Last reviewed 12 January 2021

Local authority leaders have urged the Government to not overlook counties in its forthcoming bus investment strategy, as a new report makes clear the scale of decline in public transport in rural and remote areas.

Produced by the County Councils Network (CCN) and the County All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG), the report shows that services in counties are operating at minimum levels following years of funding reductions.

Its analysis reveals that there were 97 million fewer bus journeys in 2019 across 36 counties compared to a decade ago, due to a £348 million funding gap.

The problem is made clear in statistics showing that 74% of county residents live in areas over 30 minutes’ journey to a hospital by public transport — compared to 60% of those in urban areas.

Similarly, 26% of county households live further than 30 minutes away from a further education college, whereas the figure is 10% in cities and urban areas. Finally, 21.5% live 30 minutes from a town centre, compared to 10% in urban locations.

Available at www.countycouncilsnetwork.org.uk/advocacy/publications-and-research, the report highlights that, while councils subsidise bus routes that are not commercially viable for operators, they have found it hard to maintain support due to cuts in funding.

Between 2009 and 2019, council and central government funding for bus routes declined by £233 million (30%) in the 36 county areas. At the same time, costs in that period are estimated to have increased by £115 million due to population increases.

This created the £348 million funding gap.

County areas in the North West saw a decline of -39.5% in funding for bus routes, while counties in the South West saw a decline of -36.9%, followed by county areas in the East Midlands (-32.5%) and the West Midlands (-31.2%).

APPG Chairman, Peter Aldous, said: “The inquiry that informed this report showed the devastating impact on rural and remote communities of services that councils could no longer afford to subsidise. Whilst passenger numbers have declined across England, services in counties are operating at minimum levels and any reduction in services hits those who are elderly and disadvantaged the hardest.”