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Volume 666: debated on Thursday 24 October 2019

Bus patronage varies across the country, and as a bus champion I am pleased to say that catching a bus is the most popular form of public transport. Hon. Members will want to know that we continue to invest in our bus services with further additional funding of £220 million through the better deal for bus users package, which will also include £30 million paid directly to local authorities to improve current or new services.

For many people, including those in my constituency, bus routes are a lifeline, but Tory cuts to bus funding have meant over 3,000 routes have been cut or withdrawn in England alone. Does the Minister think it is right that people and communities are cut off from work, leisure and healthcare facilities by the withdrawal of routes, and what is her plan, beyond what she has already mentioned, to ensure she restores lost connectivity?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question which enables me to elaborate on the further funding that is available, but of course we know the importance of bus services; not only do they get people to work, but they ensure connectivity across our communities. As well as the £220 million of additional funding, we have the £1 billion for concessionary fares, but also the transformative £2.5 billion for the transforming cities fund, which also looks at reducing congestion. The hon. Lady talked about the reduction in services in England, but she may want to know that the highest number of bus services cut in the United Kingdom are of course in Labour-led Wales.

Bristol has bucked the trend of declining bus use, and under the Bristol bus deal we are investing in bus prioritisation measures and infrastructure, and in return the bus operators are investing in new commuter services, but we remain the only core city without a mass transit system; what can the Government do to help us realise our ambitions on that front?

I was pleased to visit Bristol and jump on a bus there, and it does indeed have a fantastic service. Patronage has gone up by 50%—[Interruption.] Well, it is getting better and better, and the numbers are indeed going up. One reason why the numbers are going up is that bus service operators are open to working with the local authority and making data available. One thing that we are doing, because of our Bus Services Act 2017, is ensuring the bus open data digital service is available for even more people. We know what people want, especially younger people: absolutely accurate detail on when their bus is arriving, how along the journey will take, and how much it will cost.

24. With no rail links in North Cornwall, the public are pushed on to rural buses, and they welcome the new One public transport system, which specifically allocates money for things like the £1 around town initiative, which will be really beneficial for many of my rural constituents. Can the Minister confirm the benefits of the One public transport system, and is it possible to get direct buses to the general hospital from my major towns? (900132)

My hon. Friend is a good champion for North Cornwall, and of course the fantastic £1 around town initiative will be hugely successful. Rural buses are absolutely key for rural constituencies, including mine in Wealden, and from 2020 the One public transport proposals for Cornwall will integrate buses with rail services to provide passengers with better public transport solutions, low fares and higher frequency buses.

When pensioners in my constituency go to visit friends and family in England, they find that their concessionary bus pass does not work, so will the Minister please speak to the Welsh Transport Minister about making the bus passes in Wales and England compatible? It surely cannot be a difficult problem to fix and it is regularly raised with me as a source of frustration among pensioners.

That is indeed not a difficult problem to fix and I am more than willing to sit down with my Welsh counterparts to ensure that that is done. We have made more than £1 billion available for concessionary bus passes, and it is absolutely key that older people and those with disabilities can use our public transport system.

There is no doubt that our bus services are in crisis. Funding has been slashed by £645 million a year in real terms since 2010; over 3,000 routes have been cut, as we heard earlier; and fares have soared by two and a half times the increase in wages. It is hardly surprising that passenger numbers have fallen by 10%. Millions of pensioners, young people and commuters who rely on buses deserve an apology, so will the Minister now apologise for her Government’s complete and utter failure in this area?

It is remarkable that the hon. Gentleman, who represents a Reading constituency, will not even recognise the progress that has been made with local bus services in Reading, where numbers are going up. Even in places such as Liverpool, where better packages have been put together for younger people, numbers are definitely going up. I am more than happy to come to the Dispatch Box and talk about the new £220 million fund that is being made available. The hon. Gentleman talks about bus fares. They are indeed an issue for local authorities and train operating companies to take up, but unfortunately, Opposition Front Benchers have forgotten their history; when they were in office, bus fares went up twice as fast as they have under this Government.