Dorset buses covered fewer miles last year

Dorset buses covered fewer miles last year

Published by George Sharpe at 12:01am 4th January 2020. (Updated at 12:31am 4th January 2020)

Dorset's buses covered 201,000 fewer miles last year, new figures reveal.

Campaigners and council chiefs have blamed rising car use, congestion and cuts to transport funding for England's bus mileage dwindling to its lowest level in more than three decades.

In Dorset, buses clocked up 4.7 million miles in 2018-19, the latest Department for Transport statistics show – down 4% from the year before.

The local authority subsidised only 9% of these journeys last year, with the rest run by private companies for profit.

empty bus

Alongside shrinking services, fares continued to rise in real terms.

Prices were hiked up 3.3% on average across England last year, higher than the 1.9% Consumer Prices Index measure of inflation over the same period.

Only 64% of fare-paying passengers outside London say they are satisfied with the value for money of their journeys, according to a survey by watchdog Transport Focus.

People older than 65 and those with a disability are legally entitled to free bus passes for off-peak travel.

But with cash-strapped councils spending less and ditching discretionary items such as supported rural services, the Local Government Association warns that nearly half of the country's bus routes face the chop.

Calling local bus services a "lifeline for our most vulnerable residents", a spokesman for the association said more needs to be done to tackle the network's "spiralling decline".

"Councils also want to see a fully-funded concessionary bus fare scheme, which is putting nearly half of all bus routes at risk," he added.

"It is vital the new government properly funds this scheme so councils can protect bus routes and reinvest in local networks."

Darren Shirley, chief executive of Campaign for Better Transport, said people in cut-off communities were unable to reach basic services.

"With local authorities unable to support the less profitable, but socially necessary routes, these have been the first victims of cutbacks leaving many communities – especially in more rural areas – without a usable bus network," she added.

"We hear from people every week who can no longer get to work or their GP practice, visit friends or even get out to the shops."

The trade body representing bus and coach operators, the Confederation of Passenger Transport, said growing car ownership and congestion are the two issues driving the decline in towns and cities.

CPT policy manager Alison Edwards called on councils and the Government to work together to "put the bus first" in transport planning.

A Department for Transport spokeswoman said:

"This Government has committed to improving and expanding bus services – and this is exactly what we intend to do.

"We recently announced a £220 million package to transform services across the country to support Britain’s first all-electric bus town, better information for passengers, and contactless payment on every city bus, on top of the over £2 billion the public sector spends on bus services each year – making journeys greener, easier and more reliable."

Cllr Ray Bryan, cabinet member for Highways, Travel and the Environment at Dorset Council said:

“Historic reductions in public transport funding were absolutely necessary at the time in order to protect our core network, which accounted for 80% of the passenger journeys taken.

"But it’s also important to note that we haven’t reduced public transport funding since 2017 and certainly not since we made our Climate Emergency declaration last year.

"We’re holding Executive Advisory Panels (EAPs) to look at ways to improve available forms of public transport in rural areas.”