‘Bus cuts’ back in the news

Thursday 9th February 2023

Tuesday’s newspapers gave a strong sense of déjà-vu with reports of yet another impending bus cuts cliff edge as post Covid funding for bus services comes to an end on 31st March with registrations for any service withdrawals/amendments from that date due within the next week.

We’ve been here twice before, firstly prior to Bus Recovery Grant being introduced and secondly before it was extended beyond its initial phase. The DfT has a habit of leaving announcements on funding to the very last minute leading to scare stories of this kind in the media which do nothing to encourage passengers and further undermines confidence in using bus services. My guess is funding will be extended once again but I suspect only for a short period, meaning we’ll be back here again later in the year. This short termism is hardly a sustainable way of funding bus routes that aren’t generating enough revenue to justify their continuation.

Either a longer term commitment needs to be given to funding – for example through an enhanced BSOG (Bus Service Operators Grant) for the next, say, five years (like Network Rail has a five year control period with agreed funding), or we need to get on with introducing the threatened cuts and put some of these unviable bus routes out of their misery once and for all.

A good example of dithering over whether to implement cuts to bus services has been played out in Kent during the past twelve months.

Regular readers will recall a year ago I wrote about Kent County Council’s need to save a whopping £2.2 million from its annual budget of £6.1 million for funding bus routes. It’s part of a cut in the Council’s overall budget for 2023/24 of £38 million which in turn is part of a £100 million saving over three years and comes on top of cuts worth £750 million over the last decade highlighting the reality of local government funding in recent years.

To achieve this scale of saving the Council held a consultation on its planned withdrawal of 38 bus contracts last Spring which after a lot of heartache were finally approved at a meeting of Full Council in October. The cuts come into effect from this weekend pretty much as originally planned with the main change being the retention of the Kent Karrier network of Dial-A-Ride routes.

Some of the cuts include those bus routes introduced with misplaced optimism as ‘Rural Pilots’ back in 2019. I travelled on and wrote about these soon after they were introduced. It doesn’t surprise me they’re now being withdrawn as there was never going to be enough passengers generated to justify the subsidy needed to run them. They were doomed from the off and it was just a matter of time before withdrawal.

One that survives this weekend’s cull is Nu-Venture operated route 13 between Hollingbourne and Maidstone which loses its Saturday service after this weekend but with the Monday to Friday timetable continuing. This is the route which involves a change of bus at Sutton Road on the east side of Maidstone for most journeys to and from Hollingbourne, making it less than ideal for passengers travelling into the town centre. 

Passengers using another Nu-Venture operated route – the 58 – are not so lucky. This ‘Rural Pilot’ introduced in July 2019 involving a change of bus on the west side of Maidstone for connections to the villages of Addington, Trottiscliffe, Wrotham Heath, Ryarsh and Birling will be withdrawn with Nu-Venture operating a Friday only shoppers journey to those villages as well as a Monday only return journey to East and West Malling from Wrotham Heath and Offham Green as a very limited replacement. Both these are operating at commercial risk and will be reviewed at the end of July as you can see from Nu-Venture’s website announcement below.

Other existing once a week shopping journeys which were threatened with withdrawal will all be cut ending a long tradition of linking communities across rural Kent with destinations such as Tenterden and Rye.

Autocar’s Friday only 299 from Tonbridge to Tenterden runs for the last time tomorrow.

Although shopper buses operated by Regent Coaches are also ending its reported Stagecoach are planning to operate a DRT style replacement for residents of some of the villages wanting to travel to Whitfield on the outskirts of Dover. I understand this will start on 20th February so I’ll take a look at that development in in due course.

Once a week rural shopping journeys operated by Regent Coaches in the Deal to Sandwich and Dover area also end tomorrow.

In the Sittingbourne area there’ll be a few gaps not least from the town’s nearby rural hinterland. Routes being withdrawn this weekend include all the 343/344/345 and much of routes 8 and 9 operated by Chalkwell which serve the villages of Newnham, Doddington, Lynstead, Teynham, Bapchild and Conyer.

Chalkwell’s bus network this week
Chalkwell’s bus network next week with the slimmed down Sittingbourne bottom right

I travelled on these routes last Spring and had a mixed experience of passenger use. Some journeys did well but others were lightly used and frankly didn’t stand a chance of surviving.

Another casualty is Go-Coach operated route E1 – the Edenbridge town service which I also took a ride on last April and found it a very lonely ride around the town, so it’s no surprise that it’s coming to an end.

Go-Coach also operate routes 474/475 linking villages in north west Kent including Longfield, Bean, Betsham, Southfleet and New Barn with Bluewater.

Although the whole service as currently formulated is being withdrawn Go-Coach are continuing a limited service to be numbered Connect 1 providing four circular journeys on Mondays to Saturdays. 

So it’s not all bad news for Kent residents; there are some crumbs of comfort with limited services continuing, although I can’t help thinking just like the once a week shopping journeys of old are now being withdrawn, these slimmed down new ones about to commence will similarly one day be gone too.

Meanwhile up in Leicestershire the same process is about to get underway with the County Council announcing plans to cut 26 bus services it funds, and remember this is all before any future of Bus Recovery Grant is announced.

One bus service definitely ending in a fortnight’s time on 25th February is route 159 between Hinckley and Coalville operated by Roberts Coaches.

I took a ride on this a couple of weeks ago to see how a typical Leicestershire rural-come-inter-urban route under threat of withdrawal is doing in its last gasp of life.

The route runs every ninety minutes with an 85 minute end to end running time taking two buses. It tales something of a circuitous route – I’ve highlighted it in red on the rather complex map Leicestershire County Council provide on its choosehowyoumove.co.uk website.

As you might be able to see some of the route is duplicated by other bus services – Arriva’s 15 links Ibstock and Coalville and Market Bosworth, Barlestone, Newbold Verdon have Arriva’s 152/3 into Leicester but there are no other alternatives into either Coalville or Hinckley from these locations.

I caught the 11:30 from Hinckley’s Crescent Bus Station leaving with six passengers on board. Two went to Newbold Verdon, two to Barlestone and two to Ibstock. We picked up one passenger near Barwell just outside Hinckley who travelled to Woodlands Farm, and other in Barwell itself who travelled the short distance to Stapleton. One more got on at Barlestone and travelled into Coalville, making for a total of nine for the entire journey. We passed the other bus which had eight on leading me to believe that’s a typical loading for an off peak journey.

I’m told in November 2022 route 159 carried 6,228 passengers which works out at around 13 per journey. The current subsidy paid by Leicestershire is around £60,000 per annum but Roberts Coaches wanted a substantial increase with the County Council declining to pay more. With two buses and 13 passengers per journey I can see why Roberts want some greater recompense, but with Council’s facing dire financial constraints I can see why Leicestershire hasn’t got any more money to hand over and it’s noteworthy Leicestershire didn’t reach the winners enclosure in the BSIP funding race.

The imminent loss of route 159 follows the withdrawal of other significant routes in recent times. These include route 19 between Melton and Nottingham, route X55 between Leicester and Hinckley via the villages and route 2 between Barrow and villages into Leicester, and now the 159. And for sure, it won’t be the last.

Another notable route withdrawal this weekend is TrawsCymru route T19 introduced in summer 2021 as a commercial venture by Llew Jones. It’s heritage goes back to Express Motors days when that company ran a competitive service to the Conwy Valley rail line between Llandudno, Betws-y-Coed and Blaneau Ffestiniog. I’ll comment more about this in a future blog alongside other developments in the TrawsCymru network.

Roger French

Blogging timetable: 06:00 TThS

46 thoughts on “‘Bus cuts’ back in the news

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  1. Interesting (and sad) to see that Ensign have sold up this week as well. You can predict the future of that network in the press release where First openly say that the fleet is young enough that they won’t have to buy any buses for years.


  2. How about a halfway house?

    There are some operators doing very well out of BRG. One operator is back to a nearly a 10% margin according to companies house submissions this year.

    So, how about targeted funding? If you are doing well then you you have broader shoulders. If you are not, only give BRG if a clear plan to recover passengers has been created.

    If an operator can’t be bothered to do that, then pull the plug.

    It’s not just the routes that are unviable. The way some operators are ran is also unviable, but that is their own fault, and the tax payers shouldn’t bail out companies that are hooked on on the drip feed of BRG and can’t be bothered to try and grow.


  3. Curiously the final newspaper article shows a picture of an National Express West Midlands B7RLE interestingly this must have been taken recently the vehicle behind is in Platinum Grey & will have been fully refebushied inside to a high standard. However what is more interesting is that there are NO major cuts aside from normal timetable changes & contract renewals within the West Midlands County so the press seem to be illustrating the final article somewhat perversely.


    1. None planned, at the moment, but there have been plenty of examples of National Express West Midlands reducing headways. Also, plenty of services cut last month https://www.tfwm.org.uk/plan-your-journey/ways-to-travel/buses-in-the-west-midlands/upcoming-bus-service-changes/bus-service-changes-from-1-january-2023/ with the 22, 26, 30, 34, 42 (Cov), 50 (Wolverhampton), 68, 89, 89 (Cov), 93 and 424 all going and people directed onto nearby alternatives.

      Sadly, no area in the country is unaffected by inflationary pressures, staffing and the financial realities of the day.


      1. National Express Coventry services are not within the remit of my comments which are about National Express West Midlands. The other services listed were TfWM contracts which expired to be replaced by a new network of TfWM which have been tailored to match supply with demand when financed by the council tax Levy imposed by WMCA


        1. You did say West Midlands County (which includes Coventry), and the contracts may well have expired and have been reshaped to match supply with demand. This makes sense but isn’t the same as saying “there are NO major cuts aside from normal timetable changes & contract renewals within the West Midlands County” when there quite clearly has been a retrenchment.

          That’s aside from the widening of headways on commercial services, especially by National Express West Midlands, and yesterday’s announcement that Diamond is proposing to cancel three more, heavily loss making commercial services.

          To suggest that West Midlands is somehow immune to the wider pressures of post-Covid patronage decline, increased costs and driver shortages is much more perverse.


          1. The Coventry outfit must be run by the same people as the rest of National Express WM? Probably has local branding? Always a bit of a mystery as to why Coventry was included in the West Midlands when it was formed about 50 years ago as unlike the rest it is separated by a significant bit of countryside from Birmingham.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Indeed – it was a cause celebre. Coventry Corporation was folded into West Midlands PTE. In 1986, it became West Midlands Travel. In the mid 1990s, they subtly changed to WM Buses fleetnames (plus the depot name) so WM Buses Coventry joined WM Buses Yardley Wood. It was with the rebrand to Travel West Midlands (red/white/blue scheme) that they introduced a distinct livery with Travel Coventry fleetnames and a white and two tone blue livery with sky blue replacing the red.

              Later liveries have retained the sky blue theme, in tribute to the local football team, and is now National Express Coventry. However, despite the different identity, it remains part of West Midlands Travel.


            2. National Express Coventry is a separate SBU within West Midlands Travel Limited from National Express West Midlands.
              Operations within Coventry MBC are ringfenced within TfWM. I have no involvement with operations with operations in Coventry & can make no direct comments of operations in the City as these are delt with in a separate manner from those within the rest of West Midlands Combined Authority


          2. The 11 , 82 & 87 have recently had thier PVR increased. Changes to other NXWM frequency patterns are more akin to punctuality issues than any service cuts. I stand by comments that West Midlands County has not had any significant service cuts compared with the rest of England. The timetables and frequencys on the network I use around Blackheath are exactly the same in 2023 as in 2019 unless anyone knows differently. Yes revisions occur but they are no different to periodic changes pre covid .


  4. The Mirror illustrates a story about potential English bus cuts with a photo of a Cardiff Bus. At least it isn’t the standard London bus…


    1. You beat me to it! However Welsh support for buses also ends in April, however the Senedd are discussing a nationwide franchising scheme which may well mean that support will be continued – I hope.

      Interestingly one Welsh operator put up its fares last week – I though that wasn’t allowed at the moment but I may well be wrong.


  5. Note that the X84 between Leicester and Rugby has not been recently withdrawn as suggested. It is still running – although for how long is a good question. From what I see at the Rugby end, patronage is low.


    1. Presumeably Roger meant the X55 between Leicester & Hinckley via the villages which was recently withdrawn without replacement rather than the X84 between Leicester & Rugby which still runs (often with deckers and can load well at times and in sections).


  6. The newspaper headlines about further bus cuts have a further impact. In my experience, councillors latch on to the familiar mantra about bus services being reduced, even in areas such as Cornwall, where there are no cuts.

    They believe what they read in the press and it becomes part of their everyday conversation. And, if a councillor says so, it must be true ! A further self fulfilling prophecy as residents believe what they are told.

    Positive promotion is needed in areas where services continue to run.


    1. That seems to be Arriva ditching some contracts. Some of them were only recently won off Uno which is pretty shabby behaviour.


      1. If, as anecdotally seems to be the case, Arriva can’t retain enough drivers to run their core routes (and Uno and the rest suffer similarly) then what else do we expect them to do? Ditch their core commercial routes? That’d sure help the majority of passengers with their essential travel needs!

        Some passengers are already regularly waiting up to 2 hours for peak buses. Would we like to try it, and see how our employer reacts?


  7. Hedingham are struggling to run their services in the Clacton area reliably . They do not even bother to give a reason as to why they are not running. N Very little notice is given neither of cancellations


  8. Comments about tailoring subsidy to need are correct. Some Transport Authorities base their decisions on subsidy per passenger and others use subsidy per passenger mile; the former relates to how many votes may be won/lost, the latter looks more at the effect on each passenger.

    Of course the success or otherwise of the current £2 offer might affect patronage both during the three months and what happens thereafter.


  9. Building on Peter Murnaghan’s comments about perception and positive promotion, the Daily Record printed this item recently – https://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/local-news/overhaul-dumfries-galloway-bus-service-29114232#amp-readmore-target. Reading that “More than 50 contracts are to be scrapped as part of a radical plan to restructure bus services across the region” concerned me slightly so I found item 7 of the relevant SWestrans report – https://www.swestrans.org.uk/media/27098/SWestrans-Board-Papers-27-January-2023/pdf/SWestrans_-_27_January_2023.pdf?m=638097225182530000
    Fortunately, this is one of five possible options (option 1 being “Status Quo” – probably not the three chord wonders). However, this is not the impression created by the “news” story…


  10. Bus & Coach The Route to Net Zero Novem er 2022 WPI Economics

    Another of these theoretical reports probably written by people who have never set foot on a bus]]

    All sorts of figures plugged in how they arrived at them who knows

    It suggests spending £1.1B would increase passengers numbers by 50%. I am very dubious of that claim

    It suggests that by getting a move to buses from cars upto £17B could be saved

    No real data as to how they arrived at that and they appear to have ignored the negatives such as loss of car parking revenues the adverse impact on the high strrets, adverse impact on car manufacturing etc


  11. Stagecoach East Kent replacing that service in Kent with a DRT is probably a cunning ploy to wind down the service all together.They must know by now DRT doesn’t work so what’s the point in introducing anymore when the money could be used for a normal timetabled service?


    1. Not a ploy from Stagecoach but from Kent CC. Roger has sadly covered this so many times – the money for standard tendered service support comes from one source. DRT funding is available and comes from a different pot.

      In the world of conspiracy vs cock-up, it is usually cock-up


  12. The West Midlands that Richard Jones seems to live in seems to be different from the reality. The bus cuts from 1st January were the largest cut for many years, the driver shortage has not been resolved,most NXWM staff have voted to strike and I see Diamond are cutting three more routes (45,226,002). TfWM have made it clear that the overall subsidy pot, having been increased by £4m annually,will not be further increased so further services are likely to disappear. So despite TfWM’s valiant efforts to stabilise the network the future does not look rosy. And this in an area of low fares and above average ridership.


    1. And cuts and unreliable services means more people give up on using buses as the services as the no longer meet the passengers needs


      1. Paradoxically, bus cuts can both increase passenger use as those remaining passengers left without any choice transfer to those services which remain; and improve reliability with less buses around to suffer congestion on the network. A short term shot in the arm.

        The trouble comes later, as where do the new passengers come from? An infrequent service is often not an attractive proposition, no more than an unreliable one. But who thinks of or cares about the day after tomorrow? In the long term we’re all dead anyway, and we can forget about the jam we were promised tomorrow.


      2. As has been foretold for decades, perhaps public service buses are a dying breed.
        To be replaced by contract services; but may be as found by the High Streets, customers become ever more discerning and demanding, so nothing can be taken for granted.


    2. 002 , 45 and 226 are being withdrawn not because they are remunative but simply because of the failure of TfWM to introduce the new 1 fare all company tickets from April which has destabilised renumeration to the operator.


    3. I repeat there have been NO major cuts to services across the West Midlands. I use the network daily. Services withdrawn on New Years Eve were TfWM contracts that expired to be replaced by services akin to actual usage. I used to use the mentioned 22 to Tipton Lesiure Centre throughout 2022 I was only person on the Mellor. Headways on some services across The Black Country have been revised to match demand this would happen normally anyway to match operation demand but there have been no major changes on Hagley Rd, Dudley Rd or Soho Rd or Harborne or
      Sutton Line or Bristol Rd services . Warwick Rd services have reshaped to match demand as have East Birmingham services while services serving the QEHB have been reshaped to match the needs of patients and staff. Using the network daily I do not accept any of the changes on New Years Day have had detrimental effect of Brums Bus Network. The Diamond Bus changes announced this week are due to the failure of TfWM to introduce one system of tickets and passes from April which has undermined the renumeration to the operator.


  13. Buses in Yarmouth are seriously delayed due to an unexploded Bom. Attempts to defuse it failed and the bomb has gone off.. Mitigation measure appear to have limited but there are concern two major gas mains may have been damaged.


  14. Perhaps rather than just threats all the time here’s an opportunity for the politicians to practise their constant mantra of reducing bureaucracy.

    It’ll never happen. Too many vested interests.

    But would any such changes threaten the (too few) already successful operations?


  15. To rebuild the bus network we need to redress the balance, At present priority s given to cars and even cycles but not buses., There are various ways to achieve this but there is currently no commitment to do so

    The bus back better and enhanced partnerships have come to nothing other than LTA talking shops


  16. This article really annoyed me in an era where we can’t fund basic buses. Apparently Milton Keynes is going down the gadget bahn rabbit hole, and is wasting public money on the invention of a new mode of transport!

    Have they not learned from the Cambridge Autonomous Metro? Do they not understand that if you buy a proprietary system you are stuck with the same supplier when you need to replace your fleet. That’s assuming the supplier still exists.

    Caen in France bought the GLT system from Bombardier only to find they no longer manufactured it when fleet replacement came due, and thus the whole thing had to be ripped out and replaced with a tramway.


    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hmm. Public transport planning has about as much relevance to everyday life as a fashion catwalk, as this blog demonstrates so well.

      If we have the (usually other people’s) money to spend, it gives us something to spend it on.


      1. LAS’s go through fads. At one time Arts Centres were the In thing. Then it as Sports Centres and at one time even bridges

        The latest things with LA’s is Rapid Transit Systems. Every LA thinks it needs one

        They cost a fortune to build and generally need huge ongoing subsidies and generally don’t deliver on the forecast passenger numbers


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