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Bus passengers fall to lowest in a decade

Words: Huw Morris

The number of people using buses in England has fallen to its lowest level in a decade at 4.45 billion passenger journeys in 2016/17.

The Local Government Association (LGA) warned that the decline in bus passenger journeys could lead to increased congestion and poorer air quality in local communities as well as leaving those who rely on the bus network unsupported.

The Department for Transport figures show that overall there were more than 75 million fewer journeys across the country in the year to the end of March 2017 in comparison with the previous year – a decrease of 1.7 per cent.

Buses in England, outside of London, had 1.1 per cent fewer journeys – a fall of almost 49 million – in the same period. Metropolitan and non-metropolitan areas saw a similar drop, with 1.1 per cent and 1.2 per cent fewer journeys respectively.

Councils have a statutory duty to provide free, off-peak, travel for elderly and disabled residents through the concessionary fares scheme.

But the LGA said this has been underfunded for years by central government, with councils spending £200 million a year to subsidise the scheme at the cost of other discretionary subsidised bus services.

“Buses provide a vital service for our communities and a lifeline for our most vulnerable residents to go shopping, pick up medication, attend doctor appointments or socialise with friends,” said LGA transport spokesman Martin Tett. “Councils know how important buses are for their residents and local economies and are desperate to protect them.

“It’s nearly impossible for councils to keep subsidising free travel while having to find billions of pounds’ worth of savings and protect other vital services.”

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