The Government has stepped in to provide nearly £400 million of emergency funding to keep England’s buses running.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the extra funds will protect bus services for people who need to travel, for example to get to work or buy food.
The new funding, totalling £167 million over three months, comes on top of a pledge to guarantee existing £200 million investment. There will also be up to another £30 million for local authorities to maintain existing services.
The £200 million of existing funding is usually paid according to fuel consumption, and so the DfT said its commitment to pay this on pre-COVID-19 levels will help ensure that bus companies are able to benefit despite fewer fare-paying passengers travelling.
The package, agreed jointly with the bus industry, will keep key routes running to provide a lifeline for those who cannot work from home, including those travelling to jobs on the frontline of the UK’s fight against COVID-19, such as NHS staff.
As a condition of the funding, bus operators will be required to maintain necessary services at a level which is sufficient to meet much reduced demand, but also to allow adequate space between passengers on board. This is expected to be up to 50% of normal service levels.
Shapps said: “We have been very clear during the outbreak that the best way to stop the spread of the virus and protect the NHS, is to stay at home if possible.
“Our buses are a lifeline for people who need to travel for work or to buy food – including our emergency services and NHS staff – and it’s absolutely vital we do all we can to keep the sector running.
“This multi-million-pound investment will protect crucial local transport links across England, bolstering the sector and minimising disruption for passengers in the long term.”
Operators will also be required to keep passengers properly informed about revised timetables to ensure that people know which services are running and when.
Graham Vidler, chief executive at CPT, the trade association that represents the bus and coach industry, welcomed the announcement.
He said: “This funding is designed to plug the gap between the costs of running essential routes and revenue currently being received, and will help the country through the outbreak by allowing critical journeys to continue.
“We’re pleased the Government is working with us to ensure essential bus journeys can continue and will work closely with them to ensure the network remains viable.”