Local bus passenger journeys account for about 59% of all journeys made on public transport. The number of local bus passenger journeys in England fell by 1.5% to just over 4 billion in the year ending March 2017. The Bus Services Act 2017 introduced new powers for authorities and operators to work together to improve local bus services and grow passenger numbers.
Evidence shows that regulating buses improves services and bus patronage, so why are the Government siding with the bus companies rather than passengers by refusing to give councils such as Manchester’s powers to take back control of local buses?
The hon. Gentleman seems confused. When you wait for a bus, three come along at once: over £13 million of bus service operators grant has been made available to Manchester; the transforming cities fund has given the mayoral authority £312 million to drive up intercity connectivity; and, moreover, the Mayor has the authority to ask for franchising, but he has not—I suggest that the hon. Gentleman and his Mayor just jump on the bus and ask for it.
Late-running and cancelled buses cause just as much misery for people as late-running and cancelled trains. We talk a lot in this Chamber about the trains, but it is also happening on the buses at the moment. The Transport Committee has heard about the problems in Bristol, and there is misery on the buses in Cambridge. What assessment has the Minister made of bus punctuality, particularly the effect of bus driver shortages?
I have been following the Select Committee inquiry very closely. It is interesting that the hon. Gentleman mentions Bristol, because bus passenger numbers have gone up by 42%. He raises a valid point, because punctuality, the timing of bus arrivals and departures, and journey times are key to increasing bus patronage, which is why we are increasing funding to make sure that information is available.
Since 2010, bus funding has been almost halved, fares have been increased by over 50% and thousands of routes have been cut, shrinking the network to its smallest size in decades. Does the Minister agree with the United Nations assessment of Tory transport policy:
“Abandoning people to the private market in relation to a service that affects every dimension of their basic well-being is incompatible with human rights requirements.”?
I would rather stick to the facts. We make over £1 billion of funding available for concessionary bus passes every year, and we continue to be committed to that. Some £250 million is paid to support bus services up and down the country. There is no denying that there are challenges in some parts of the country. However, the hon. Gentleman forgets to note that bus patronage is up by 42% in Bristol, up by 38% in South Gloucestershire and up by 31% in Central Bedfordshire. There are services that are working right, and local authorities are working with bus providers to make sure that up-to-date information is available.
Just as Conservative Members ridicule complaints about the state of our roads, the Government have dismissed the UN report as political. Let me tell the Minister that the decision to axe vital public services to fund tax cuts for millionaires, now that is political. Now the Prime Minister has declared that austerity is over, will the Minister commit to reversing these cruel and harmful cuts that are denying people their human rights?
I am afraid that Labour Front Benchers have run out of anything positive to say about any part of our transport infrastructure, even to support buses across the country. As I said, there is £1 billion of funding for concessionary bus travel. We are making franchising available to those mayoral authorities that wish to take it up, but they refuse to do so. [Interruption.] I do not know whether this is just going to go back and forth, but the fact is that we are putting funding into bus services, making sure they are greener, making sure that more information is available and making sure that more people can catch a bus.