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'Silent war on bus users': Bus routes outside London cut by up to 80% since 2008

The government has been waging a “silent war on bus users”, campaigners have warned, as new research shows staggering declines of up to 80% in areas outside London

The government has promised at least 4,000 more electric buses on UK roads. Photo: Alan Sansbury

Bus services outside of London have plummeted over the past 15 years, new research shows, with some areas seeing “staggering declines” of up to 80%.

The government has been waging a “silent war on bus users”, Friends of the Earth have warned.

Collaborating with the University of Leeds, the charity analysed every bus timetable in every neighbourhood across England and Wales since 2008. The results paint a dire picture of the country’s public transport network.  

Over the past 15 years, urban bus services in England and Wales have dropped by 48% and rural buses by 52%.

Some regions have fared worse than others, with services down 60% in the East Midlands, 57% in Wales and 52% in the north-east.

The results are unacceptable, said Mike Childs, head of science, policy and research at Friends of the Earth.

“A bus renaissance is essential both for the millions of people who do not own a car in the UK and as part of a fair, green transition to a zero-carbon economy,” he said.

“To reduce pollution and cut emissions, we need the government to invest in our crumbling public transport system to make it far easier for people to use their car less and switch to greener ways to travel like buses, trains and cycling.”  

Which areas of England and Wales have the worst bus services?

Londoners won’t struggle to catch a bus, with parts of the capital serviced by up to 120 an hour. In comparison, urban areas outside London get an average of just 14 buses per hour.

In some rural constituencies the declines are particularly severe.

The data shows the constituencies that have fared worse since 2010 – when the Conservatives initially took power as part of a coalition – are North East Hampshire, which has seen an 82% fall in services, Bridgwater in Somerset (81%), Staffordshire Moorland (78%) and Stoke-on-Trent North (78%). Friends of the Earth have published this map showing the worst declines.

Peter Travis, Co Chair of the Somerset Bus Partnership, said cuts to council budgets were decimating services in local communities. Even the 54 route connecting the two largest towns in Somerset (Taunton & Yeovil) has been declared ‘under threat’ by Somerset Council, he warned.

“The £2 fare is a great initiative by the Government, but not if there are no bus services for you to use”

Services in North Shropshire, where Liberal Democrat Helen Morgan is MP, have declined about 50% in 15 years.

“Sadly, waiting for the government to take rural public transport seriously is as frustrating as trying to travel from Market Drayton to Telford without a car,” she said.

“Buses connect patients with hospitals, shoppers with high streets and villages with town centres. Investing in buses boosts the economy, education and health.”

Some 22% of households don’t have access to a car. In the low income demographic, this figure rises to more than a third (35%) of households.

Childs warned that the cuts to services “disproportionately impact” people of colour, disabled people, and older Brits, who are also less likely to have access to a vehicle.

Buses are a “lifeline” to many people, said a Norman Baker from Campaign for Better Transport.

“Buses are vital for keeping people connected to work, education, medical care, and their communities. Buses tackle loneliness and help people to live full, independent lives,” he said.  

The Campaign for Better Transport has called on the government to change how buses are funded, taking the responsibility away from local authorities.

“Money should be re-allocated away from high-carbon transport like road building into a single funding settlement for all local transport bodies to use on buses,” Baker said. “All bus-related funding should come from the Department for Transport and be ringfenced so that it cannot be spent on other public services.”

Ahead of the next general election, Friends of the Earth is calling on all political parties to include a manifesto pledge for a ‘public transport renaissance’ and for the next government to commit to return bus services to 2010 levels within five years.

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