The Government is being urged to extend the ‘vital’ emergency public transport grant to prevent private bus operators from making cuts to services across Milton Keynes.
The Progressive Alliance which runs Milton Keynes City Council is calling for an extension of the Bus Recovery Grant – a pot of money provided to private bus operators to help them recover from the pandemic.
The grant, which runs until the end of March, provides financial stability at a time when operators face soaring inflation, driver shortages and fewer passengers.
However, passenger numbers have shown no sign of recovering to pre-pandemic levels. Many buses run with the majority of seats empty which means routes are operating at a loss.
Leading City Councillors fear that without a grant extension, or suitable long-term funding, private bus operators will be forced to make cuts to bus routes, drastically increase prices, or even scrap services that aren’t profitable.
Councillor Jenny Wilson-Marklew, Labour Progressive Alliance Cabinet Member for Public Transport, said:
“Buses are a lifeline for thousands of people across Milton Keynes. They keep communities connected and take people to work and important appointments, so it’s awful that they are under threat. Private bus companies already find themselves operating services at a loss and can’t fulfil the needs of their passengers because the Government are providing limited support. I fear that if the Government scraps the grant and doesn’t provide long-term funding, it could have a devastating impact and cause widescale disruption to the people of Milton Keynes.”
Although buses are run by private companies, The City Council provides support for residents by subsidising concessionary fares. This includes ENCTS passes for over 65s and disabled residents, and the All In 1 Card for under 19s.
This year, the City Council is increasing its financial support for All in 1 Card holders to cover inflationary fare increases across the operators’ group – which is made up of various private bus companies. The City Council already pays 50p per trip, but this year will provide an extra 20p to cover the inflationary rise and minimise impact on residents during the cost-of-living crisis.
Councillor Rob Middleton, Labour Progressive Alliance Cabinet Member for Resources, added:
“Just like private bus companies, Milton Keynes City Council has faced a drastic reduction in funding from Central Government. We’ve seen our funding fall by a third since 2010. This means the City Council simply doesn’t have the money or the resources to spend hundreds of thousands on subsidising bus routes that private operators won’t pay for anymore.
“We will continue to support public transport where we can, including by subsidising fares for children and older people, but we can’t do it all. The Government needs to understand that not everybody has access to a car, so buses are the main transport method for many. Public transport needs the right amount of long-term financial support, or our communities will suffer the consequences.”