Buses are the most popular form of public transport in this country and as the Forest’s MP, I know that they are often the main source of transportation available for those in rural areas who do not drive. That is why, in my role as Secretary of State for Transport, I have sought to support and boost the bus sector to ensure its long-term viability, with a key priority of my Department being to increase the number of bus passengers which has fallen significantly since the Covid pandemic.
Last month, the Department for Transport confirmed that Gloucestershire County Council will be receiving £2,209,623 from the Bus Services Improvement Plan 2024-25 fund, building on the same amount of money which was awarded to the County Council in the 2023-24 allocation year.
The County Council will be using their section of the funding to expand the on-demand rural minibus service ‘The Robin’. This service has been operating in the southern part of the Forest of Dean since its launch last year and has been doing an amazing job at improving connections between areas which often have infrequent or no fixed bus routes available.
This new funding also means that some services which were withdrawn last year by Stagecoach could be reinstated if operators come forward to run the routes. Among the proposed bus service improvements is the 72 service between Chepstow and Lydney, with it potentially being extended from Lydney to Mitcheldean via Soudley, Ruspidge and Cinderford.
Going further still, to save on everyday travel costs, the Conservative Government is providing up to £200 million to continue capping single bus fares at £2 outside London. This was due to end in October 2023, however, the Prime Minister has announced that it will be extended until the end of 2024 to ensure costs are kept down for families.
The £2 fare cap has cut travel costs, particularly in rural areas such as the Forest of Dean, with the average fare dropping by 10.8 per cent in rural and non-metropolitan parts of England since June 2022. This is in comparison to Labour-run areas such as London and across the border in Wales, where bus fares have seen an increase of 6 per cent and 6.3 per cent respectively. This further underlines the point that where Labour is in power, they run our public services poorly.
Ultimately, while it is the responsibility of bus operators and local transport authorities to ensure an adequate provision of bus routes, the Government and I will continue to work closely with the sector to support local areas in dealing with changing travel patterns while managing pressures on the taxpayer.
This column was first published in The Forester newspaper.