Bus Recovery Grant (BRG) support in England has been extended to the end of March 2023 after the Department for Transport (DfT) allocated a further £130m to the mechanism.
BRG had previously been scheduled to end on 4 October, which had raised widespread concerns of service reductions and withdrawals.
DfT had been adamant that no further revenue support would be provided beyond then, but in announcing the extension into 2023 it says that the further money will ensure that “services keep running and millions of passengers can continue using affordable transport.” The Department adds that the cost-of-living crisis is a further factor in its decision.
The Confederation of Passenger Transport (CPT) has welcomed the extension. A spokesperson says: “Today’s announcement will help bus operators and local authority (LA) partners to balance a network of reliable and affordable services in the short-term as bus networks adapt to new travel patterns.
“For the longer term, we will continue to work closely with central government and LAs to encourage existing and new passengers to get on board the country’s buses, ensuring that they are provided with the best possible service.”
Some operators in England have already registered service reductions ahead of the previous 4 October end date for BRG. It remains to be seen how many of those may be rescinded in view of the latest announcement, but terms and conditions of the mechanism’s current iteration permitted a reduction of service levels to 80% of the 2019 baseline from June, subject to LA agreement.
The Urban Transport Group (UTG) quickly responded to the Bus Recovery Grant extension into 2023. Director Jonathan Bray has welcomed the development, but he adds that news comes “on deadline day for bus companies registering plans for extensive service cuts.” It is thus “too early to know how many… this funding will save,” Mr Bray continues.
UTG has repeated its calls for both a long-term funding settlement for buses, and for revenue support to be routed to LAs so that they “can best ensure that every pound of public support for bus services is spent in the public interest.”
In a communication to CPT members shortly before the extension of BRG was announced, Mr Vidler noted that the Confederation has “been clear on the need to manage expectations (particularly ministers’ expectations) about the impact of any extended funding.” He adds that protecting the bus network of 2019 in full “benefits no-one” and that “a degree of change is necessary to serve today’s and tomorrow’s passengers.”