Major funding package to support skeleton services across England

The major operators have welcomed a £397million funding package announced today by transport secretary Grant Shapps for bus services across England outside London.


The package, agreed jointly with the bus industry, is intended to keep key routes running to provide a lifeline for those who cannot work from home, including those travelling to jobs on the frontline of the UK’s fight against Covid-19, such as NHS staff.


New funding of up to £167million will be paid over 12 weeks — up to £13.9million per week — under the new Covid-19 Bus Services Support Grant. As a condition of the funding, bus operators will be required to maintain necessary services at a level which is sufficient to meet much reduced demand, but also to allow adequate space between passengers on board. This is expected to be up to 50% of normal service levels.


“We have been very clear during the outbreak that the best way to stop the spread of the virus and protect the NHS, is to stay at home if possible,” says Shapps. “Our buses are a lifeline for people who need to travel for work or to buy food – including our emergency services and NHS staff – and it’s absolutely vital we do all we can to keep the sector running.


“This multi-million-pound investment will protect crucial local transport links across England, bolstering the sector and minimising disruption for passengers in the long term.”


Operators will also be required to keep passengers properly informed about revised timetables to ensure that people know which services are running and when.


The government has also promised that £200million of existing funding under the Bus Services Operators Grant will continue to be paid as normal even though not all services may run during this time. This funding is usually paid according to fuel consumption, and so the government’s commitment to pay this on pre-Covid-19 levels will help ensure that bus companies are able to benefit despite fewer fare-paying passengers travelling.


This is in addition to up to £30million of extra government bus funding, originally earmarked for starting new services, which will instead be paid to local authorities to maintain existing services.


“It’s vital people protect our NHS by staying at home during the outbreak – but we also need to ensure that doctors, nurses and other key workers, can travel to and from their jobs,” says chanceller of the exchequer Rishi Sunak. “This funding will provide a lifeline for those on the frontline as well as those who cannot work from home.”


Councils have also been encouraged to maintain their existing subsidies for concessionary fares to ensure that older and disabled people can still travel when they need to, for example to reach the shops, hospitals and doctors’ surgeries.


“Bus operators of all sizes across the country are providing an essential service at a time of national emergency, and we thank the thousands of staff doing an incredible job to keep routes running,” says Confederation of Passenger Transport chief executive Graham Vidler.


“This funding is designed to plug the gap between the costs of running essential routes and revenue currently being received, and will help the country through the outbreak by allowing critical journeys to continue.  We’re pleased the government is working with us to ensure essential bus journeys can continue and will work closely with them to ensure the network remains viable.”


Arriva, First, Go-Ahead Group and Stagecoach have all welcomed today’s announcement. Stagecoach, which is suspending all Megabus coach services in England and Wales from this weekend, says it is operating about 50% of its usual mileage on bus routes and is carrying around 15% of the usual number of passengers. It expects to reduce operated mileage closer to 40% of normal from next week.


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