Special investigation: 4.5 million miles of bus routes cut

Rural bus routes have suffered
Rural bus routes have suffered
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Buses across Lancashire are covering 4.5 million fewer miles than four years ago, according to new figures.

An investigation into the nation’s shrinking bus services has highlighted the impact of budget cuts, with less funding to prop up non-profitable routes.

Across Britain, the number of miles clocked has hit its lowest point in almost three decades.

In Lancashire, where the amount made available for bus services has been slashed in recent years, the total miles lost since 2013 is the same as 183 trips around the equator.

Lancashire County Council’s lead for highways and transport Coun Andrew Snowden said there should be a cause for optimism, however, with a number of services restored in December that will contribute to next year’s figures. Meanwhile, representatives have warned residents in rural areas whose services are under threat to “use it or lose it”, amid fears the falling levels of service will leave residents isolated.

The figures - collated for us by the BBC’s Local News partnership - reflect how funds for bus support services were cut from around £7m by Labour-run County Hall for 2016/17.

The Conservative administration, voted in last year, has since upped the available budget from £2m to £3m.

Coun Snowden said: “I’m confident the figures (of miles covered) will start to increase, testament to our election pledge that we have delivered on.

“It’s a big priority for this administration. I live in a rural area myself and I know how reliant communities can be on services, it may not be commercially viable because of the numbers using it or because of the distance the vehicle needs to travel, but it is still vitally important.

“We are focused on tackling social isolation, improving connectivity and delivering value for money.”

He added that County Hall continued to work alongside commercial providers to identify areas that have the most need for services.

He said: “We’re continuing discussions with bus operators in some areas of the county where we think value for money can best be achieved by extending an existing commercial service and hope to deliver a number of further improvements to the network.

“The providers are grateful we’ve put this money back in, they want to work with us to provide the best coverage.”

The investigation, using Department for Transport information, found buses remain the most popular form of public transport.

The total miles covered by both commercial and subsidised services in Lancashire has fallen by 17.6 per cent in the last four years.

Subsidised services - those which require financial help from the local transport authority because they are not commercially viable - account for the vast majority of the 4.5m miles that have disappeared in the last four years, contributing 4.13m.

In terms of passenger journeys, Lancashire has seen a decrease per head of population by 13 per cent since 2013, with the number of journeys reduced from 51.6m to 45.5m.

Across England, the number of miles clocked up each year by buses in England has shrunk to levels last seen in 1991, even though passenger numbers are now eight per cent higher, the investigation found.

The bus network has seen its annual vehicle miles reduced by 81 million (6.1 per cent) in the past decade. This is the equivalent of 3,252 journeys around the equator.

And the North West is one of six regions to have seen vehicle miles cut in the past decade.

A Department for Transport spokeswoman said: “Buses connect people, homes and businesses, and that’s why we have given councils extra powers to work in partnership with bus companies to improve the service passengers expect and deserve.

“Long-term social and economic factors are affecting levels of bus usage. But to encourage it and improve journeys for passengers, we provide around £250m to support bus services every year. This benefits people up and down the country, and supports the nearly 10 million older and disabled people in England who get free off-peak bus travel.”