Cabinet to consider proposals for subsidised bus services in the Royal Borough for 2024 and beyond


Cabinet will consider proposals next week on how to provide subsidised bus services in a more affordable and sustainable way from 2024. 

In the Royal Borough, around half of the bus routes are currently subsidised and the council invests £1.1 million a year to support these. Due to rising costs, significant further subsidies would be needed simply to maintain the current services, while bus usage remains low and council finances are under significant pressure.

Additional temporary funding is being used to support subsidised services with a series of interim changes introduced in October last year, designed to support operators on a smoother post-Covid journey. These were extended for an additional 12 months in March. However, a longer-term solution is needed to provide well-run and well-used services, which provide value for money.

An officer report to be considered on 27 September, says the council needs to decide how this happens in future against a backdrop of changing traveller habits arising from Covid, including a reduction in passenger numbers compared to pre-pandemic levels, combined with inflation and increased running costs for bus companies.

The council, therefore, needs to make some changes while ensuring that the impact on those that use buses is minimised and that’s there’s coverage across as much of the borough as possible. 

The proposals being considered for each route can be found in the appendix to the Cabinet report here and these will be explored further as part of the tender process.

Councillor Geoff Hill, cabinet member of highways and transport, said: “This is a matter for the whole Cabinet to consider at our meeting next week. Our bus contracts are more than five years old but things have changed significantly since before the pandemic and we have seen a change in passenger behaviour and reduction in passenger numbers, alongside increased running costs for bus companies and the council. 

“Additional temporary funding has been used to support subsidised bus services in our borough to keep them running, and we now need to use this breathing space to look at the options for providing affordable and sustainable services for our residents longer-term, services that are well used, well run and provide value for money. Unfortunately, this will mean some changes to how services are provided, but Cabinet will be carefully considering these officer proposals in detail next week.”

The recommendation to Cabinet at its meeting on Wednesday 27 September is to approve the redesign proposals and authorise a tender process. Approval to award is then due to be considered by Cabinet in March and, if approved, the new contracts would start in August.