Local authorities in England are finalising how they plan to allocate their share of the £30m one-off DfT funding for supported bus routes.
The funding was announced at the beginning of February and has been allocated between authorities on the basis of their supported bus mileage in the years 2004/05 to 2018/19 (LTT 07 Feb). Twenty per cent was set aside as a top-up for rural authorities.
The DfT has said the funding should be spent in 2020/21 if possible but can be spent over a longer period of time to ensure a service is maintained in the longer term.
Hampshire County Council’s £709,912 award is equivalent to about 37 per cent of its current annual spend on supported services of £1.9m.
The council is working with operators to identify the services that stand the best chance of becoming commercially viable.
“There is a risk that if previously withdrawn services are simply reinstated, then once this funding is used up, these services will be withdrawn again, a situation which is not helpful in building a stable, long-term financially sustainable local bus network,” said officers.
They said the funding was likely to support “additional evening and weekend services, extending the span of the day of some services, and services that are currently supported but could become commercially viable with some pump-priming”.
Hampshire may also fund services lost during previous bus subsidy reductions if operators think they would “now stand a reasonable chance of being operated with a small subsidy and thereby becoming a viable part of a commercial network after the funding has expired”. Officers said there are likely to be fewer of these.
In what may be an unusual approach, Hampshire plans to award the funds to operators via a competitive challenge fund. “Operators would be expected to demonstrate how the funds would be used to boost frequencies, extend the operational day, extend routes, and provide evidence of how the services could become commercially viable at the end of the funding period,” officers explained. “They would also be asked to demonstrate any added value that they would bring in terms of vehicle quality, air quality improvements, ticketing schemes or other passenger benefits.”
Under the Transport Act 1985, the Service Subsidy Agreements (Tendering) England (amendment) Regulations 2004, local authorities can award up to 25 per cent of the local bus budget in any one year without the need to competitively tender.
Oxfordshire County Council has used up its 25 per cent allowance and so will be awarding all of its funding through tenders.
Oxfordshire has not had a budget for supported services since withdrawing funding for 118 routes in July 2016. Of these, 48 remain in existence through commercial operation, community transport provision or Section 106 from planning obligations.
The council plans to spend its £588,403 allocation between September 2020 and August 2021 and will incorporate it into an existing Section 106 bus tender programme that will be published next month. Dave Harrison, Oxfordshire’s senior public transport officer, told LTT this week that the COVID-19 outbreak was not affecting these plans.
Contracts for the additional services will be issued for one year, with an optional additional year if the Government’s forthcoming national bus strategy identifies further funds for supported bus services.
Oxfordshire will allocate £253,400 to restore lost bus routes, providing 87,000 additional bus miles. These include a peak hour rail link service to/from Chipping Norton and Kingham; a broadly two-hourly service between Southmoor and Oxford via several villages remote from a main bus service; and a broadly two-hourly service between Abingdon, Berinsfield and Cowley that could be further enhanced with developer funding.
A further £210,000 will extend existing bus services, providing 89,600 additional bus miles. This includes evening services on the S4 between Oxford and Banbury; a new Sunday service on the X38 between Wallingford and Henley (that will be extended to Oxford using developer funding); and better Saturday services on the X9 between Chipping Norton, Charlbury and Witney.
The remaining £125,000 will provide 77,935 additional miles on existing supported services.
Transport for the West Midlands plans to use some of its funding to bring vehicles used on its supported bus network up to Euro VI emission standard.
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