(2) what steps he is taking to support the provision of bus services in rural areas; and if he will make a statement;
(3) what steps he is taking to promote the use of rural based community bus services; and if he will make a statement;
(4) what steps he is taking to ensure pensioners in rural areas have access to free or concessionary bus travel; and if he will make a statement;
(5) what representations his Department has received on proposals to reduce the provision of bus services in rural areas of Bedfordshire; and if he will make a statement.
The Department has supported the provision of bus services in rural areas by the introduction in 1998 of the rural bus subsidy grant (RBSG), a grant paid to local transport authorities according to numbers living in rural areas. A total of £393 million has been allocated to authorities over the period 1998-99 to 2006-07.
In addition, a total of £110 million has been awarded to authorities successful in Rural Bus Challenge (RBC) competitions held from 1998 to 2003. This scheme has encouraged the development of innovative solutions to meeting rural transport needs. Many of the 300 projects initially supported by RBC funding are now continuing with mainstream funding from local authorities and other sources.
A further step of particular relevance to rural areas has been the introduction of amended rules for the route registration of local bus services which has enabled the introduction of flexibly routed, demand responsive bus services. These services are also now eligible for bus service operators grant (BSOG) from the Department.
The following table shows the Department’s spending on grants to Bedfordshire county council under the RBSG and RBC schemes.
RBSG/RBC spend (£ million) 1998-99 0.44 1999-2000 0.44 2000-01 0.44 2001-02 0.68 2002-03 0.74 2003-04 0.91 2004-05 1.74 2005-06 1.29 2006-071 1.27 1 Estimated.
RBSG/RBC spend (£ million)
It should be noted that the majority of support for local bus services is provided by local authorities using the Government’s revenue support grant (RSG) and authorities’ own resources. It is for each authority to decide how much of their RSG allocation to devote to bus support. I understand Bedfordshire county council is currently considering to what extent it can fund substitute services following an announcement of planned service changes by Stagecoach.
Many of the projects supported under the RBC have been community-based services. In addition, in 2002 we extended eligibility to receive BSOG to a wide range of community transport services. A total of over £4 million annually is now paid to such services of which approximately £0.15 million is to community transport operators in Bedfordshire. Our bus policy document “Putting Passengers First”, published in December, proposes a number of further measures to assist community transport provision.
From April this year, older and disabled people have been guaranteed free off-peak local bus travel within their local authority area. From April 2008, this will be extended further allowing free off-peak local bus travel anywhere in England.
We have received no recent representations on proposed changes to rural bus services in Bedfordshire.