In March 2021, the Department for Transport committed via the National Bus Strategy (NBS) to reform BSOG in England. It laid down several areas for exploration as part of that work and stated that proposals would follow later that year.
It may have thus come as a surprise to hear Baroness Vere tell the Transport Select Committee on 29 June that reform plans are still being worked up and that the long-awaited consultation on them is now likely to be published later in 2022.
Notwithstanding the 22p per kilometre zero-emission incentive introduced in April – a welcome development – the speed at which BSOG reform is progressing is anything but as acceptable as Lady Vere claims.
A possible uplift for rural services (floated in the NBS 16 months ago) is highlighted by Rotala chief Simon Dunn as something that could help to smooth what will otherwise be a cliff-edge transition away from Bus Recovery Grant (BRG) money in October.
Such routes are especially vulnerable when that funding ceases, he notes. Had BSOG reform in England progressed at the pace DfT first promised, it may have mitigated what look likely to be significant reductions to some provision in three months’ time.
Lady Vere’s position that networks require reshaping is well taken. That Bus Service Improvement Plans – and specifically, those that remain unfunded – will see to the rest is not. Operators cannot sustain lossmaking routes post-BRG. If and when those services disappear, rebuilding them at a future point is difficult. BSOG reform should have a lot more clarity attached by now.