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Public Transport: Rural Areas

Volume 470: debated on Friday 25 January 2008

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what steps are being taken to ensure adequate spending on public transport in rural and remote areas of the country. (181158)

Local and central Government are currently spending £2.5 billion a year on buses—including those operating in rural and isolated areas. This includes bus service operators grant (BSOG), the costs of mandatory concessionary fares, local authority subsidy of non-commercial services and capital expenditure on bus-related infrastructure schemes. It is for local authorities to decide what resources to devote to the support of rural bus services within their area.

However, recognising the particular needs of rural areas, we have provided funding to local authorities in the form of rural bus subsidy grant. This grant is currently supporting over 2,000 new and enhanced services on which over 33 million passenger journeys are made annually. This year’s allocations total £55.6 million, bringing the grant’s total to nearly £450 million since its introduction in 1998.

Demand responsive, flexibly routed and community transport services provide essential links in rural areas. To assist these types of services, we changed the regulations that govern the operation of bus services to enable more flexibly routed services to be registered with the traffic commissioner. We have also provided support for many community transport services by making them eligible for the first time to receive BSOG.

The Local Transport Bill will benefit rural areas as well as towns and cities by modernising the regulatory framework for buses, giving local authorities a bigger role where this is necessary and providing strengthened arrangements for partnerships between local authorities and bus operators.

The Bill also contains measures to expand the role of community transport and enable private hire vehicle operators to provide local bus services, extending the existing taxibus provisions to this sector for the first time. Both these measures are of particular relevance to meeting rural transport needs.