23/04/2013

Austerity on the buses


From 1st April there has been a major cut in bus funding by the Welsh Government. This is how it breaks down.

1/ The Bus Services Operators Grant (BSOG) – which goes direct to the bus companies – has been cut by 25%, from £22.6 to £17 million.

2/ The Local Transport Services Grant (LTSG) – which goes to the County Councils to provide services – has been cut by 27%, from £11 to £8 million.

This amounts to an £8.6 million cut out of £33.6 million allocated for bus services across Wales. Bus funding - a complex mix of commercialism and subsidies brought about by the then Conservative Government's 1985 Transport Act - is also supplemented locally by County Councils; but no council could come close to being able to cover this kind of shortfall even in the best of times.

I don’t altogether blame the Welsh Government. After all, they themselves have been subject to a £50 million cut from Westminster this year. However there are choices to be made within the money available and it’s not clear how the cut in public transport funding is going to avoid compromising the intentions behind the Sustainable Development Bill.

The £25 million that’s still left for buses is now being put into one pot – called the Regional Transport Services Grant (RTSG). This is being given to each of the four Regional Transport Consortia,  the consortium for Central Wales being TraCC, covering Ceredigion, Powys & Meirionydd. They will then be responsible for allocating this money for services. A minimum of 10% must be spent on Community Transport schemes.

There may well be a few savings to be made by councils working more closely with their neighbouring authorities through the consortia, but it won't come close to making up for what’s being lost.

The completely new funding formula will be based on passenger mileage, i.e. how many miles buses travel with how many passengers, rather than just how many miles they travel, which is the case now. Of course this can be presented as a common sense green measure to discourage unnecessary mileage. However it obviously favours areas of denser population and it’s causing a lot of concern in rural areas. 

During this transitional year, TraCC will need to put together a bus network plan for the Ceredigion/Powys/Meirionydd region in the light of the funding changes. All the various stakeholders will be consulted and the plan, to be completed by January, will then inform the configuration of local bus services in the future.

All this is having to be done in a very short space of time and it will be a steep learning curve for TraCC, the bus companies and everyone involved. A report presented to the Ceredigion Council Cabinet this month points out that the bus industry has not gone through such a significant period of change since de-regulation in 1986.

Changes may not be apparent immediately because money available up to April 1st has already been invested. However  Arriva have already announced an intention to cut five of it's less well used services in Ceredigion from the end of July - see these listed at the foot of the page. 

Looking around for some spark of positivity amidst this gloom, the letter sent to councils from the (now former) Transport Minister Carl Sargeant explaining the changes does specifically mention Ceredigion in a couple of places. 

It mentions the Bwcabus scheme, which is a ground-breaking initiative in the southern two-thirds of the county and regarded as a model for other areas. It also mentions the intended Quality Partnership Scheme for Traws Cymru services between Aberystwyth and Cardigan.

So it's very, very slightly reassuring to know that Ceredigion is on the Welsh Government’s radar when it comes to new ways of providing bus services amidst the new financial realities. But the truth is that there's hardly any silver lining to this bus funding cloud. The Westminster Government's austerity measures are about to bite our bus services very hard.

Services Arriva has announced will be cut in Ceredigion from the end of July:
1 and 2 Aberystwyth town services
10 service to Swansea (Friday and Sunday – term time), 
510 and 512 evening services

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