Interim changes made last autumn to subsidised bus services in the borough, designed to support operators on a smoother post-Covid journey, will continue for an additional 12 months.
The changes to certain sections of some routes, to the timetables of some buses and to the frequency of some routes, have been in place since October and affect services provided by Thames Valley Buses, White Bus and Bear Buses.
These were initially funded for six months, however the council has since secured extra targeted funding for bus services meaning that from 1 April these changes will be extended for 12 months. This gives the council more time to work with operators and communities to establish a longer-term solution for the bus network from April 2024 that reflects changing traveller habits, with the aim of keeping residents connected in a cost-effective manner.
Under the current timetables, services have been maintained at peak times with some routes and services expanded, providing more options for travellers, and this will continue under the extension.
Bus operators nationally, like the wider public transport sector, face a number of challenges, including changing working and travel patterns arising from Covid. This comes at a time when bus usage levels remain low compared to pre-pandemic levels and companies are having to cope with extra fuel and other cost pressures.
In the Royal Borough, around half of the bus routes are currently subsidised and bus companies rely on targeted post-Covid recovery funding, which will eventually come to an end. To avoid losing whole routes in this uncertain environment, we’ve worked closely with bus companies to support them post-Covid, investing extra money in 2022/23, and securing targeted funding for the coming financial year, to maintain subsidised services, with a few adjustments.
Councillor Phil Haseler, Cabinet Member for Planning, Parking, Highways & Transport, said: “We, along with the bus operators, have agreed to extend these interim changes, giving us more time to work together on a longer-term solution for our bus network from April 2024. This extension will avoid the removal of whole routes, while maintaining a good level of provision while we carry out this wider work.
“We recognise that bus services are valuable to our communities and businesses, in tackling climate change, and for some people this is their main way of travelling around the borough and beyond. At the same time, operators are local businesses facing unprecedented challenges and difficult decisions.
“Last October we took a proactive approach, and we are now simply extending this arrangement until March 2024 which will ensure that we keep the current level of service for the next 12 months, giving certainty to operators and connecting residents, businesses and visitors around the borough. In the meantime, we continue to support and steer operators on their journey to transition fully and effectively into a post-Covid operating environment.”
For full details, www.rbwm.gov.uk/bus-changes. Visit Thames Valley Buses (https://www.thamesvalleybuses.com/services), White Bus (https://www.whitebus.co.uk/bus-services/) and Bear Buses (https://bustimes.org/operators/bear-buses) websites for timetables.