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Bus Journeys

Volume 659: debated on Thursday 2 May 2019

Local bus journeys remain central to transport choices, accounting for around 59% of all public transport journeys. The number of local bus passenger journeys in England has fallen since the 1950s to 4.36 billion in the year ending March 2018.

Since 2010, public funding for bus services has been cut by 45%, leading to a 20% decrease in passenger journeys. At the same time, bus operators have pocketed £1.5 billion in profits. Does the Minister think that the country and commuters are getting a good deal?

Well, bus patronage differs up and down the country, as does the number of miles covered by buses. When local authorities have good partnerships with bus companies, the number of bus passengers across all age groups tends to be higher. It is fundamental to note that the one place where bus miles are going down is in Labour-led Wales.

Further to that point, does the Minister agree that we should congratulate Henley Town Council on its provision of a Saturday bus service, which is increasing bus journeys around the town, particularly for the vulnerable?

Once again, my hon. Friend is a true champion of his constituency, and he refers specifically to Henley Town Council. When a council has a good relationship and partnership with a bus operating company, decisions about where and how buses should run can be made close to home to ensure that services are run how passengers want. I want buses to be the most convenient, accessible and greenest form of transport across our country. This is not just about funding; it is about good relationships between local authorities and bus operating companies.

My hon. Friend the Member for Jarrow (Mr Hepburn) made an important point. Bus services are in deep crisis: funding has been slashed by £645 million a year in real terms since 2010; over 3,000 routes have been cut; and fares have soared by 2.5 times the increase in wages. It is therefore hardly surprising that passenger numbers have fallen by 10% since 2010. Will the Minister now apologise to the millions of pensioners, young people and commuters who rely on our buses?

Bus passenger numbers vary across the country, and I do not think it is appropriate for the hon. Gentleman just to whitewash bus services as if they were one national service. He should realise that bus passenger numbers are up by 15% in Bristol and by 38% in Poole, and bus passenger numbers are up among young people in Liverpool as well. Over £1 billion is spent on bus services, with some going directly to local authorities and some going to bus operating companies.

When the hon. Gentleman talks about the cost of a bus journey, it is important to remember that, every year, the cost went up three times as fast under the Labour Government than it ever has under this Government. Under Labour Governments, no matter how much change a person has in their pocket, they will never be able to afford that bus journey.

It seems that the Minister, sadly, may not fully acknowledge the depth of the crisis affecting our buses. For many people, buses are the only means of public transport. The crisis in our bus services is damaging our communities, particularly the young, the old and people with disabilities.

Our councils stand ready to help where this Government have failed. Indeed, the Minister references the work done by some excellent Labour councils across the country. On local election day, can she tell the House why the Government will not allow all local authorities the powers to regulate bus services and, indeed, to set up new council-run bus companies? Both measures have led to much-improved services across the country.

I can tell the House, on local election day, that we have put in place legislation under the Bus Services Act 2017 to allow local authorities to manage those partnerships with their bus companies to ensure that they deliver good value and good services locally. All local authorities need to do is to work on business plans and timetabling and they can bring those partnerships forward. They have not done that yet.