Oxfordshire’s bus operators and councils today welcomed the news of extended government funding that will help the industry continue to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Bus operators across the UK will share £107m in government funding over the next six months to ensure services can continue to run. Local authorities will also be given an additional £39m. Oxford Bus Company, together with sister companies Thames Travel and Carousel Buses expect they will receive in the region of £2m.
The funding is lower than previous Coronavirus Bus Service Support Grant and Bus Recovery Grant government support schemes – but it will enable existing Oxford Bus Company and Thames Travel services to continue for at least a further six months. The company had previously warned that if the funding was withdrawn at the end of March, as had previously been planned, it would have been forced to reduce its network by between 20% and 30%.
Phil Southall, Managing Director of Oxford Bus Company and Thames Travel said: “This is welcome news and we’re very grateful our call to action was heard. It protects services in the short term at a time when people need services to return to work, education and leisure activities. But unfortunately, the cliff edge has not gone away and we still need to increase patronage by 20% come September to avoid having to make any reductions in services.”
The current average patronage across the Oxford Bus Company and Thames Travel network is 75% of pre-pandemic levels and the operators confirmed this figure would need to reach 90% by September to fully protect services when the funding expires.
Mr Southall added: “It remains unclear how much patronage will fully recover to, and it’s crucial we use the next six months to rebuild in earnest, in partnership with key stakeholders including the City and County Council. The more patronage we get back, the less impact there will be on services come the end of September.
“There won’t be any immediate changes in our services, but we now need as many people as possible to return to using the bus wherever possible. This will help protect vital bus services that are a life-line to many people, reduce congestion as
people return to workplaces following the pandemic, and improve air quality and wellbeing.”
Councillor Tom Hayes, Cabinet Member for Green Transport and Zero Carbon Oxford at Oxford City Council, said: "Buses are by far the most important form of public transport in Oxford. For many people, buses are the only form of public transport they can afford or the only kind anywhere near their home or workplace.
“The city council urgently wrote to the Government to raise concerns about the dangers of a funding withdrawal, raising our voices with other big employers, and we welcome the extension of bus recovery grant funding following our letter.
“We need to level up our communities and that involves the Government making long-term commitments to funding. The Government must commit to protecting our local communities, and our economy and jobs, which depend on bus travel
“Working with partners, the City Council intends to keep momentum up on upgrading Oxford’s public transport and reducing congestion to try and keep our sustainable transport network moving forward.”
Councillor Liz Leffman, Leader of Oxfordshire County Council, said: “It is a huge relief that the government has listened to the pleas from passengers, bus operators, and local authorities such as ourselves who warned about the dreadful impact this loss of funding would have on services. Hopefully this will act as a wake-up call to all parties about the importance of public transport and how vital it is in the fight against climate change, congestion in our towns and cities, and in keeping people connected.”