The Bus Services Act 2017 presents local authorities with new powers to bring about change and unlock the potential for the bus service industry to increase passenger numbers. Since 1982, bus usage has fallen, but it is variable across the country. Passenger journeys on local bus services in England have decreased by 4% since 2009-10, to 4.44 billion in 2016-17.
Does the Minister believe that there is a link between her Government’s 33% cut to the bus budgets and bus patronage falling to a decade low? What action has the Secretary of State taken over the past 18 months to rectify that?
Bus patronage is actually increasing for people who go to work—3 million people choose to travel to work on a bus—and 60% of people who use public transport use the bus. Increasing bus patronage is at the forefront of the Government’s bus agenda. It is vital to combating congestion and reducing emissions. Government provide about £1 billion of funding for concessionary travel every year, and around £250 million will be paid this year to support bus services in England via the bus service operators’ grant.
Recent devolution deals have seen the power to re-regulate buses, via London-style franchising, devolved to areas such as my own that have a metro mayor. Can the Minister tell me how the Government plan to support those metro mayors who make the local democratic choice to franchise their bus networks so that local passengers can get the routes that they need?
Mayors have the freedom to do that. It is absolutely right that these decisions are taken locally, whether by the local authority or the mayor. We therefore encourage all local authorities and mayors to consider how they can use enhanced partnership and franchising powers to make improvements for passengers and to increase bus patronage.