There’s still confusion and concern among people about risks to bus services from funding changes. This week I offered to stand by with a safety net for the affected services. But what does this actually mean?
Well, before launching into the detail, I should mention that very few bus services in our city are operated with public funding. The vast majority of services are operated at the commercial risk of the operator. This is a testament to the city’s successful partnership between the bus companies and successive councils – together taking bus use per head of population to the highest in the country outside London.
So – what are the funding issues that some of our bus services currently face? They fall into two categories. The first applies this spring and the second in December, and each arises from a different cause.
In April, DfT funding for the daytime service 38 runs out. Over the last few years, the existing pattern of services in Meadowview – and the 37 services it is operationally linked with – has only been made possible by the DfT funding. Now that this money is about to run out, council officers are trying to broker the best possible solution for users of these services. Other operators are also interested in operating services on these routes as well as ourselves. It is still too early to say what the final result will be in terms of timetable, operators, and the precise route of the services, but this will be concluded very shortly. Whatever the outcome there will still be services for people in these areas, although it cannot be guaranteed that it will be exactly the same service as now.
In December, the Brighton & Hove operated evening and Sunday services on routes 21/21A and 38A, as well as the peak hour 84, will have some or all of their council funding withdrawn. (The daytime 21 and 21A are not affected.) This funding is paid to operators for what are called “secured services” or “tendered services” because they are operated after competitive tenders for the routes are submitted to the council by different operators. Secured services come about through the council exercising its powers to provide bus services where they are considered essential but are not provided by operators at the operators’ commercial risk. Of course, the council can only exercise those powers if it continues to have sufficient funds to do so.
(By the way, there are many cities in the UK that are much more heavily dependent upon secured services, and their bus networks may be at far greater risk as such funding becomes ever more squeezed.)
As with other local authorities, our city council needs to make economies in its budget – but the extent and focus of these economies are for politicians to comment and make decisions on, not me. The city council’s current budget proposals include economising on the “secured” bus services mentioned above: these are only the evening and Sunday 21/21A and 38A, and the peak hour 84 services, and no other routes are affected.
The extent of the council’s economies in secured bus services cannot be confirmed until after the elections, so it is too early for us to be able to say in detail what the final outcome will be in respect of each of these at-risk bus services; although we can confirm that we will continue to operate service 84 journeys as they are now.
We will continue working closely with council officers to ensure that a suitable service continues to be provided where “secured” services are lost, and we will publish the solutions that are reached as soon as we can.
Do get in touch with me to discuss in more detail if you would find it helpful.