The Urban Transport Group has issued a briefing paper describing what it says is the need for funding reform for bus services post-Covid.
The group, which represents the largest transport authorities in the UK says that as the lockdown is eased, new funding arrangements are needed to cover the additional costs of providing a socially distanced service, ensure better value for public money and allow local bus networks to be managed locally so that local needs are met and bus services are part of single integrated public transport networks.
The report also says funding should be simpler and more legally robust.
The report argues that using taxpayers’ money to pay for services that are not being provided can only be a short-term measure, that demand and services will be unpredictable and that, with capacity cut, operators may seek to increase fares and there’s nothing to stop them doing it.
“As part of a wider funding support package for transport authorities, our proposal is that national Government funding for bus services should be routed to transport authorities (in the form of a new Bus Service Recovery Grant),” the report reads. “This funding would be used by authorities to contract for a network of services that best meets the needs of their areas, which is safe for staff and passengers and forms part of a wider coordinated public transport service.
“Service contracts would be awarded directly (through minor amendments to the current legislation on the tendering of services) to existing operators in practically all cases. Service timetables would then be agreed between operators and local authorities and would be adjusted regularly in response to changing demand for bus travel during the recovery phase.
“All the fares income from bus services would come to the Local Transport Authority with the new Bus Services Recovery Grant used to close the remaining gap between the cost of providing services and the income from fares.”