Oxford P&R network at risk if England bus funding ends in April

Phil Southall calls for bus funding in England to be extended

The head of Go-Ahead Group subsidiaries Oxford Bus Company (OBC) and Thames Travel has warned that a lack of confirmed funding for bus services in England beyond 5 April leaves those businesses’ networks “on a cliff edge” that would even see the withdrawal of Oxford’s entire park-and-ride provision, among other cuts.

Managing Director Phil Southall (pictured) says that an end to the Bus Recovery Grant (BRG) mechanism on that date with no replacement would force the two companies to cut services by up to 30%. In addition to the loss of Oxford’s park-and-ride network, also for withdrawal would be some other routes within the city and certain rural services.

OBC and Thames Travel are currently carrying 70% of pre-pandemic patronage. They have already created contingency plans to ‘right size’ their networks to that level of usage if no further government support is forthcoming. Mr Southall adds that a pending possible drop in concessionary reimbursement represents a further question mark over service viability.

“We are on a cliff edge. At a time when people need services to return to work, education and leisure activities, it is absolutely critical that government extends its support,” Mr Southall continues. When notice periods for registrations are considered, a decision must be reached on the companies’ services beyond 5 April soon, he says.

“This is a call to action to help us avoid having to reduce our network and the devastating impact it will have on the community, which obviously we want to try and avoid. We have written to our local MPs and asked them to help to avert this crisis. Like all bus operators, we need the government to extend BRG funding by another six to nine months while we seek to continue to rebuild patronage.”

Mr Southall adds that if Oxfordshire County Council was to maintain concessionary reimbursement at 100% of pre-pandemic levels, that “would enable some services under threat to continue, even if BRG funding is withdrawn.”

Over recent weeks the Department for Transport has offered hints that it is examining bus funding in England beyond 5 April. It recently announced that the equivalent of a further period’s BRG payment would be made before the end of the current financial year, and at the same time urged operators to avoid “pre-emptively deregistering” services ahead of April.

However, there is as yet no confirmation that any further support mechanism beyond that data will be provided, which has led several other people in the industry to already warn of significant service cuts and withdrawals if funding ends as planned.