Oxfordshire County Council has urged the government to continue its financial support of the bus industry to avoid the loss of a significant number of vital routes around the county. In a letter sent to the Treasury and Department for Transport yesterday,  Liz Leffman, Leader of Oxfordshire County Council, warned about the impact of ending the Bus Recovery Grant (BRG), which is due to cease on March 31 2022.

While bus operators are private companies run for profit, during the pandemic they have relied heavily on BRG support from the central government. This has enabled them to continue to provide the vast majority of services despite passenger numbers being much lower than it was before the crisis hit. However, this support has not taken into account the extended delay to the recovery caused by the Omicron variant and is ending too soon for bus use to return to financially viable levels.

This sudden threat to bus funding has prompted operators into action to protect their businesses. As a result, if no announcement on continued government financial support is forthcoming in the next few weeks, applications to cancel or severely reduce service levels on more than 40 bus routes in the county are expected to be submitted. This would run counter to the council’s ambitions of a comprehensive, effective and reliable bus network to provide an alternative to the car and result in a number of urban and rural communities around Oxfordshire losing their services.

“An effective bus network is key to tackling congestion and is crucial for improving Oxfordshire’s environment. However, the scale of the potential cuts to commercial services is unprecedented, including all of Oxford’s park and ride services,  key routes serving the hospitals and several important rural routes. We need the government to step up and support the bus companies to recover from the effects of the pandemic.

The proposals come in advance of the council discovering the outcome of our Bus Service Improvement Plan and during the development of other important schemes such as the enhanced partnership for buses, the zero-emission zone, city centre traffic schemes and a bid to the government’s Zero Emission Bus Regional Areas (ZEBRA) scheme for more than 150 new electric buses in Oxford,” says Cllr Leffman.

“Local authorities, including Oxfordshire County Council, have worked closely with bus operators over the past two years to support them through the pandemic, in the expectation that the government’s National Bus Strategy would bring forward improvements and drive the national recovery. It would be devastating for this hard work to be undone through the removal of support before we hear the outcome of our Bus Service Improvement Plan and future funding for bus services,” says Cllr Leffman.

“We are urging the government to maintain its existing funding package for the bus industry, including guidance on concessionary fares reimbursement, until at least March 2023 to allow time for a sustained patronage recovery, remove the immediate threat to funding, and avoid significant service cuts.”

Source: Oxfordshire County Council