Campaigners have warned that the bus sector is facing another round of big cuts to services or cash earmarked for improving local buses being diverted to prop up services that are not viable.
On the first anniversary of the Government's national bus strategy, Bus Back Better, Campaign for Better Transport (CBT) called on the Government to launch a campaign to persuade passengers to return to help the struggling sector.
Under the Bus Back Better strategy, all 79 local transport authorities in England submitted Bus Service Improvement Plans (BSIPs) outlining how they intend to transform services.
CBT said that out of the £3bn promised by the strategy to support BSIPs, the Government has allocated £1.15bn, ‘but how the funding will be shared between local authorities is not yet known and some are likely to miss out entirely’.
Head of policy at CBT Silviya Barrett said: ‘Bus Back Better was commendably ambitious, recognising the importance of buses to improving social equality, boosting economic activity and protecting the environment.
‘But unless passenger numbers recover, those ambitions could end up withering on the vine. That’s why we're calling on the Government to run a national campaign to encourage people back on board and give buses a bright future.'
She added: ‘To avoid widening the gap between the haves and have-nots when it comes to bus provision, it is vital that smaller authorities, whose proposals may not be top of the pack, are not penalised.
‘Local authorities that do not receive BSIP funding at this stage should be given additional, dedicated funding and support to overcome barriers they may face to improving their bus services to ensure no community is left behind.’
The Department for Transport (DfT) has said that it has also provided £1.7bn to date to fund services hit by lower passenger numbers during the pandemic, as well as £525m for zero emission buses and ‘over £500m from the City Region Sustainable Transport Settlements that will directly fund bus infrastructure’.
However, the City Region Sustainable Transport Settlements were initially said to be in addition to Bus Back Better funding.