Emergency funding for buses and trams extended

Emergency Covid-19 funding for bus and tram operators in England is being extended ahead of expected increases in demand next month, the Government has announced.

Some £218.4 million will be available for bus services over the coming eight weeks.

This will be followed by investment worth up to £27.3 million per week “until a time when the funding is no longer needed”.

Tram services have access to £37.4 million of Government investment over the next 12 weeks, after which their funding will be reviewed.

Bus networks are running more than 80% of normal services – but weekday demand outside London is only around 37% of pre-pandemic levels, according to the latest Department for Transport figures.

The latest round of funding will support services in September when schools are set to fully reopen and brings the total support during the pandemic for bus and tram networks in England to at least £700 million.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: “Buses are a vital lifeline – from getting to work, seeing the doctor or doing the shopping. Today’s extra funding will keep services running as we continue to recover from the impact of Covid 19.”

Roads minister Baroness Vere said: “As we continue to open up the economy, more people are using public transport and need sufficient service levels in order to travel safely.

“That’s why we took swift action at the start of this outbreak to ensure that these services were maintained for key workers then – and would still be there for people when the economy opened back up.

“This extension of funding pushes our overall support past £700 million, meaning people across the country will have access to the transport services they need.”

Graham Vidler, chief executive of bus and coach industry body the Confederation of Passenger Transport UK, said: “Continued social-distancing measures mean capacity on buses remains reduced and income from passenger fares is still significantly lower than normal.

“This latest funding will help us keep running a comprehensive bus network that millions of people rely on.

“Bus operators remain committed to working with Government, passengers, businesses and local authorities to provide a safe, flexible and sustainable bus network for local communities.”

The Government said it is also “actively working on ways to ensure the bus sector can operate independently and be commercially viable”.

It will publish a National Bus Strategy to set out how it will “support this vital sector going forward”.

Judith Blake, who leads on transport for West Yorkshire Combined Authority and is leader of Leeds City Council, said: “Covid-19 is putting huge financial pressure on the bus network and, in turn, the combined authority.

“The emergency support we have been providing to ensure services are there for the people who need them is unsustainable over the longer term.

“This announcement is only a stop-gap solution and will not ensure the long-term viability of the bus network. The Government needs to fund and empower transport authorities to commission the services that meet local needs and secure the best outcome for passengers.”

Cllr David Renard, the Local Government Association’s transport spokesman, added: “It is good further funding has been announced for bus services and light rail, which have a critical role to play in the national recovery from Covid-19 and beyond, through supporting local economies, tackling poor air quality and congestion and reaching the country’s net zero carbon targets by 2050.

“However, these need long-term funding to support future provision.

“The most effective way forward would be for the Government to give councils oversight of local bus services, so they can ensure effective targeting of any public funding.

“We are pleased funding has been announced to support home-to-school transport and it will be important for the Government to work closely with schools and councils to ensure that the costs of covering extra transport capacity are fully covered.”