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Public Transport: Rural Areas

Volume 487: debated on Wednesday 4 February 2009

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what steps the Government have taken to improve public transport provision for rural communities. (253826)

[holding answer 3 February 2009]:We are supporting the provision of rural bus services by means of Rural Bus Subsidy Grant (RBSG), which is now paid to local authorities as part of their area-based funding. Since its introduction in 1998, over £500 million has been made available for the support of rural bus services in this way; £57 million has been allocated this year.

In addition, a total of £110 million has been awarded to authorities successful under the Rural Bus Challenge (RBC) programme 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.

The rules for the route registration of local bus services have been amended. This has enabled the introduction of flexibly routed, demand-responsive bus services. We also extended to these services eligibility to receive Bus Service Operators Grant (BSOG) from the Department for Transport. BSOG eligibility has also been extended to include community transport operators, with over 1,000 operators, many in rural areas, now claiming BSOG.

The Local Transport Act 2008 includes a number of important steps to enable local authorities to secure better local bus services in rural and urban areas alike by means of:

more effective partnerships with bus operators

making the introduction of quality contracts (i.e. franchising as in London) a more realistic option

a new regime to deliver improved punctuality

measures to support development of the community transport sector and to extend to the Private Hire Vehicle sector the ability to provide taxibuses

The Department has implemented the community rail policy on many rural routes, particularly branch lines. This policy aims to bring together the efforts of the train operating company, Network Rail (NR), the local authority and also local communities to put local or rural services on a steady footing by working together to promote and support local rail operations, increase patronage and awareness of the service. In each individual case, the route is assessed and designated as a ‘Community Rail’ route, supported by a Community Rail Partnership.