[P]AUL STAINTON: How good is your bus service? If you live in a village, do you have one at all? Well cuts to bus services are now reaching critical levels according to the Campaign for Better Transport. It says 46% of local authorities in England and Wales have reduced their support for bus services this year. Joanne Sharp from Cumbria says buses are vital and a lifeline to her community. We heard from her earlier in the show. We’ve also heard from many people across Cambridgeshire over and over again about how they feel marooned in their villages. Can’t get out of their villages. Absolute nightmare. Adam Kirtley is here from our business unit. Adam, morning.
ADAM KIRTLEY: Morning Paul. This really gets people going, this bus story.
PAUL STAINTON: It really does. Yes. But councils have got to make cuts somewhere, haven’t they?
ADAM KIRTLEY: You know, just remember, this is the Campaign for Better Transport who have commissioned this report called Buses in Crisis (pdf). It requested a Freedom of Information Act to get some statistics on which councils are cutting what. So you’ve got to look at it from the point of view that this is a lobbying group effectively to get more buses. Now the flip side is local authorities, and you know they’ve had council tax freezes, subsidies cut from central government as part of the austerity, and they are scratching their heads and contemplating their navels on how to balance the books. But there is no doubt, and this report is objectively right in saying, bus services have been cut. And in 46% of councils they’ve been cut. That means that actually in 54% they haven’t, to balance it out. And some councils are worse than others. Some councils have managed to do very little in terms of cutting. Some councils, and I have to say Cambridgeshire is one of them, have had budget cuts of more than 10%. And that means some services have to go.
PAUL STAINTON: Yes. The low-hanging fruit, as we keep being told. This is on one of the lower branches.
ADAM KIRTLEY: It is. It’s an easy get, isn ‘t it? The way it works is that about 75% of bus services are completely commercial. The buses running around Cambridge and the other major towns, they’re commercially viable. Lots of passengers want to travel on them. Bob’s your uncle. You get out into the rural villages or the late at night services and they are the 25% that have to be subsidised. And they’re put out to tender often, especially the village services, and the council will try and drive a hard bargain. The trouble is of course bus companies are less flexible than they used to be, because the price of fuel has shot up, just the time that the subsidies are being squeezed. So many rural services really are under the cosh now, and that has a knock-on effect. If you’re elderly with no transport, you need to get to the doctors, the hospitals, shops, how are you going to do it if your bus service is withdrawn? Or Paul, sometimes, and this happened in our village actually and I have to say I never use the bus, but for some people it was important, it was reduced from five buses a day to just the school bus in and out and then one shopping bus a day for shoppers. That’s now been reduced to three a week. So you can see in the last two or three years just how much buses in our neck of the woods have been cut.
PAUL STAINTON: Just quickly, have the Department of Transport got anything to say about it?
ADAM KIRTLEY: Yes it does. It says it’s provided in excess of one billion pounds of direct funding for buses, ring-fenced in the spending review bus spending until the end of 2015/16, but does accept that it these difficult times councils have difficult choices to make.
PAUL STAINTON: Adam, thank you. Adam Kirtley from our business unit this morning.