At least 135 bus routes across England have been lined up for cutbacks or closures this summer as councils and bus operators grapple with falling passenger numbers, staff shortages and funding constraints.
Changes to services include reduced frequency, fewer stops and some routes being cancelled. Among the proposed cuts, some of which have already been implemented, are 16 routes in London, 25 in Liverpool and about 40 across the north-east.
The cuts come after bus route coverage in England fell by more than a quarter between 2012 and 2021, according to figures from the Campaign for Better Transport.
Many of the latest cuts are being blamed on falling passenger numbers after the pandemic, but rising costs are also an issue, while cuts in Kent are also related to a shortage of drivers.
Labour’s transport secretary, Louise Haigh, said: “Communities across the country have been shafted by the Conservatives. Many won’t see any of the funding that the Tories promised to improve shockingly bad bus services – meaning our already unacceptable service will get worse and worse.”
The government’s national bus strategy was launched in March 2021 with the promise of £3bn of investment, but most of this went on supporting the industry through Covid. Only £1bn has been awarded to regions to fund their bus service improvement plans, with more than half the regions that submitted funding bids receiving nothing at all.
David Renard, transport spokesperson for the Local Government Association, said: “There’s no doubt that the pandemic has accelerated existing trends in declining bus passenger numbers.
“Emergency government funding has helped keep buses on the road during this period. Passenger numbers will take longer to return to those seen before the pandemic and without continued support, it is clear that some routes will no longer be viable and will have to be reduced. We want to encourage greater use of public transport and this means the government must embark on a long-term funding plan for bus services.”
Silviya Barrett, director of policy and research at the Campaign for Better Transport, said: “In respect of both climate change and the cost of living crisis, the extent of these cuts is deeply concerning. They will lead to more households struggling, more loneliness and exclusion. And every cut makes the bus network less viable, heralding a future of more car-dependence, more traffic, more emissions.
“The government needs to slam the brakes on these cuts. More funding is needed so that all local authorities can invest in more frequent bus services, cheaper fares and faster journey times.”
Further cuts are expected after government funding to support bus services during the pandemic runs out in October, with dozens of routes in West Yorkshire at risk.
A Department for Transport spokesperson said: “We have committed to investing £3bn into bus services by 2025, to improve fares, services and infrastructure, and given nearly £2bn since March 2020 to bus operators and local authorities to mitigate the impacts of the pandemic.
“To maximise this investment, local authorities need to ensure that services are commercially sustainable and reflect the needs of passengers post-pandemic.”