Ministers reveal more subsidies for UK bus industry

Ministers reveal more subsidies for UK bus industry

Ministers have extended pandemic subsidies to the UK bus industry for another six months, following warnings that swaths of the network would be closed without further government support.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps announced an extra £130m on Friday, saying the cost of living crisis made it “more important than ever” to save vital routes.

Friday had marked the deadline for carriers to outline the service levels they hoped to provide once the existing bailout expired in October, with ridership still down about 15 percent nationally compared to 2019 levels and a cost increase of “at least” 20 percent. according to Graham Vidler, chief executive of the UK Confederation of Passenger Transport, an industry body.

“We have this big gap that opens up between the way the network used to work and the way it works now,” Vidler said, adding that even with some ticket price increases, fares “don’t fill that gap.” ”. Without an extension, about a tenth of the network might be gone, he said.

The government had insisted no further extension would be granted, but Shapps said Friday that the extension of the subsidies “would ensure that millions across the country can continue to use vital bus services, and brings the total we have provided to the sector for the pandemic. to almost 2,000 million pounds sterling”.

“At a time when people are worried about rising costs, it’s more important than ever that we save these bus routes for the millions who depend on them,” he added.

Tube mayors outside London, where services are deregulated almost everywhere, raised concerns about the looming “cliff’s edge” for services in October, particularly in rural and deprived areas, should they run out. the subsidy.

South Yorkshire Mayor Oliver Coppard warned last month that without further subsidies the network reduction could reach 30 per cent in his area, after scrambling to find operators to take over the routes when services resumed this week. summer.

West Yorkshire Mayor Tracy Brabin, who in a joint letter from northern civic leaders to the government last weekend said some of her communities could go into lockdown entirely, welcomed the latest extension as evidence that “the mayors can be powerful voices to defend their region.

“We have been clear that government inaction would have decimated vital bus services and driven people to more expensive forms of transport. [at] a time when they can least afford it,” he said.

Public transport passengers faced further disruption on Friday, with London’s overground and tube networks and some bus services in the capital affected by the latest wave of strikes.

There will be a second 24-hour strike on UK railways on Saturday, after Thursday’s action brought many services to a standstill.

Shapps called on the leaders of the RMT and TSSA unions to present a Network Rail offer, equivalent to an 8 per cent wage increase over two years, to members to end the dispute over wages, job security and labor practices.

Otherwise, he said, the government and industry would go ahead with consultations on how to force reforms, including making Sunday a normal working day, with a view to “impose”.[ing]. . . sensible and common sense changes”.

The Department for Transport said that “while we still encourage RMT to join the talks and find a solution. . . it is now clear that no deal was ever going to be good enough for RMT, and they have left Network Rail no choice but to go ahead with these essential modernisations.”

In response, unions said the measures amounted to a threat to fire and rehire staff.

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