Rural bus services hit new low after losing out on post-Covid funding

Endangered rural bus services in England have dwindled to a new low after losing out on funding after the pandemic, analysis for councils has shown.

Rural bus services hit new low after losing out on post-Covid funding

More than a quarter of routes in county and rural areas of the country have been lost in the past decade, with passenger numbers falling sharply.

Local authority leaders have urged the government to revisit the funding it made available after Covid, claiming that the bulk of the £1.1bn eventually awarded under the national bus strategy went to cities and urban areas.

A report commissioned by the County Councils Network found that urban areas were allocated two-thirds of the funding to improve bus services, despite rural routes declining faster.

The 37 largest county and rural authorities, representing almost half of England’s population, received only 10% – £363m – of the bus service improvement plan funding they had bid for, with urban areas receiving £739m.

It is the latest in a series of calls by transport authorities and campaigners to the government to give sustained funding for buses. Operators have threatened to drop more routes, with many cash-strapped councils withdrawing subsidy that had sustained unprofitable but necessary services.

Councils said further investment was needed to make buses more punctual, greener and reliable in county areas, and urged the government to make the £2 fare cap a permanent fixture.

Between 2010 and 2022, vehicle miles in rural council areas dropped by 26.5%, with the decline accelerating during the pandemic. There were 44% fewer passenger journeys last year in rural or county areas than in 2010, down from 780m to 435m a year.

The report calls on the government to launch a further round of funding for improvement plans and set out clear criteria on how allocations are decided.

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