Local bus journeys remain central to transport choices, accounting for around 59% of all public transport journeys. Numbers of local bus passenger journeys in England have been falling since the 1950s, and they fell by 1.9% in the year ending March 2018.
Bus services provide essential independence and freedom to people with disabilities, yet disabled bus passes allow free travel only after 9.30 am, despite the fact that most people start work before then. Will the Government commit to providing the funding necessary to lift those time restrictions on disabled bus passes?
The hon. Lady raises an important point. Bus passengers and disabled passengers have a close link, and it is right that someone’s ability to jump on a bus is about not just economics but social inclusion. That is why we launched the inclusive transport strategy last year. The concessionary bus budget is around £1 billion, which supports about 10 million passengers. That funding is concessionary and down to local authorities, which have very different packages up and down the country.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford South (Judith Cummins) made an excellent point, and on this Government’s watch the number of bus journeys is in freefall. Bus funding has been cut by £645 million a year, yet for many people bus services are a lifeline. When will the Government finally reverse those deeply damaging cuts?
The hon. Gentleman is right to say that bus services are a lifeline because, as I said earlier, not only do they get people to school and work, but they also tackle issues linked to loneliness. He is wrong about funding, however, because around £250 million is paid into bus services, and about £43 million of that goes directly to local authorities. We must understand what is happening up and down the country. In Reading, for example, just like in Bristol, Brighton and Liverpool, bus passenger numbers are up. That is why it is important to understand the powers in the Bus Service Act 2017, which enable local authorities to work with local bus companies and ensure a focus on the services that local passengers want.