Buses remain the most commonly used mode of public transport, with local bus travel accounting for around 59% of all public transport journeys. The number of local bus passenger journeys has been falling since the 1950s. By contrast, the number of people owning their own cars has obviously been increasing.
It is now cheaper to fly to Alicante than to take a bus from Barnard Castle to Spennymoor in my constituency. Many of my constituents say that the buses are just far too expensive. Does the Minister not understand that her cuts to the bus grant are the problem?
I would not want anybody not to be flying to Alicante, but it is important to note that, when Labour was in control, bus fares went up three times as fast every year than under the Conservative Government. Anybody who wants to be out of pocket should vote in a Labour Government, because they will put up bus fares three times as fast.
It is clear that buses are a lifeline for many elderly people, particularly those living in rural areas, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman) has hinted at. They are also the main means of travel for commuters, yet as we have heard, this vital public service is in crisis. I should correct the Minister: bus passenger numbers have been falling every year since 2014, under her watch. The cross-party Local Government Association now says that half of all bus routes are in danger of closing due to a lack of Government funding. Surely it is now time for the Government to admit that they have made a serious mistake and for them finally to agree to properly fund our bus services.
Buses are indeed incredibly important. Not only do they help people to get to work, but they tackle wider issues such as loneliness. The Government provide more than £1 billion for concessionary fares, and a substantial amount of that— including the bus service operating grant—goes directly to local authorities to fund bus journeys.
It concerns me that Labour Members are desperately trying to turn buses into a political football. It is important to note that Wales, where Labour is in charge, has seen a bigger drop in bus miles than anywhere else in the United Kingdom.