Ask the expert: Subsidising bus services
Many people will be aware that we have been reviewing subsidised bus services in Hampshire. These are commercial bus services which are subsidised to keep them running when they are not commercially viable, plus our responsibility for providing the English National Concessionary Travel Scheme (since 1 April) – the free bus pass for the over 60s. Peter Shelley is Head of Passenger Transport and explains more.
Why does the County Council subsidise bus services?
We provide subsidies so that bus operators run services that do not pay for themselves because the number of passengers using them is too low. The vast majority of bus trips (roughly five out of every six trips) are not subsidised and people are often surprised to learn that only around 15% of passenger trips are on services subsidized by the County Council, so this review affects a relatively small proportion of passengers.
Where are most of the services the County Council subsidises?
In rural areas, many services are supported for part, or all of the day, as are less well used journeys in urban areas and some evening and Sunday journeys.
If the bus companies do decide to reduce the service I use, how can I get about?
Many areas operate community transport or demand responsive schemes, such as Dial-a-Ride, Cango, Call&Go and voluntary car or taxi-share schemes. We will be working with local communities and the voluntary sector to seek to plug any gaps which may occur. Those who have a free bus pass can travel on Cango and taxi-share services for free, or pay half fare on Call&Go and Dial-a-Ride. Those with Disabled Person’s passes can choose the alternative of a £32 voucher for travel on Call&Go, Dial-a-Ride, voluntary car schemes and participating taxis. Visit our concessionary travel pages or call 0845 045 8355.
Why are you reducing bus subsidies?
Our budget has provided over £8.3 million in subsidies recently. This year we are faced with the challenge of maintaining essential services with much less money, due to reduced funding from central government and its cuts to our rural bus subsidy grants. In 2011/12 our budget is £6.6 million for bus subsidies. On top of this, we will be spending £1.8 million supporting community transport schemes such as Dial-a-Ride, Call&Go and Cango.
How will the reduction in the bus subsidy affect services?
Decisions about changes to services and routes will be made by the commercial operators, once the County Council has reviewed its subsidy provision. The final outcome will be known in October, when the bus companies have submitted their tenders and contracts are awarded for the subsidised services.
We are sympathetic to concerns about reductions in service, in rural areas particularly, but the County Council has to live within its reduced means. Our aim is to ensure that, as far as possible, communities which currently have some form of public transport service retain a transport link. Furthermore, that we make the best use of resources available, including working with local community organisations.
Does this affect the free bus pass for the over 60s?
No. Funding for the National Concessionary Fares scheme is separate to the bus subsidy budget. However, like all bus users, those who have a bus pass will need to check for any changes in their local services after October.
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