The Welsh Government should advance proposals to reduce bus fares for those in transport poverty, explain the costs of meeting future decarbonisation targets and consider the risks around its reregulation plans for Wales, a wide-ranging report from the Senedd Climate Change, Environment and Infrastructure Committee has said.
The future of bus and rail in Wales was published on 6 October. During its preparation, Committee members heard from a variety of stakeholders including representatives of the bus industry. The report notes that while “fundamental changes to demand and behaviour” of bus users were underway before the COVID-19 pandemic, that period accelerated them. The Welsh Government must understand that evolution, it adds.
‘Creative thinking’ required to help transport poverty
On fares, the report notes that transport poverty is an issue in some areas of Wales and that those locations are also hardest hit by bus service reductions. When coupled with the cost-of-living crisis, it calls on the Welsh Government to deliver “creative thinking” to help those in transport poverty.
Proposals in that field could include subsidised fares and “other financial support,” the report says. It highlights work in Germany where reduced price public transport was part of a summer experiment, and the pending £2 fare cap in England outside London between January and March 2023.
“The cost-of-living crisis will exacerbate the situation of many families that are already in transport poverty, and we believe that it is imperative that the Welsh Government sets out how it will help people in this situation,” says Committee Chair Llyr Gruffydd MS.
“Nothing should be off the table, including creative solutions like we have seen in Germany and Spain, and which are now being promised for other parts of the UK.”
On decarbonisation, the report highlights the policy for 50% of buses in Wales to be zero-emission by 2028 and the financial burden that will incur. It estimates that over £50m in public funding per annum over four years will be required to achieve that aim, and calls on the Welsh Government to both explain its understanding of the costs of that transition and “set out the steps that are being taken to financially support [it].”
Bus regulation plans also examined in future-looking report
Plans for bus reregulation in Wales are also commented on in the report. It makes no recommendations in that area. Instead, the Committee will consider proposed franchising in greater detail when the relevant Bill is published.
However, the Committee accepts that the step will expose SME operators to risk. It notes that provision should be within the Bill for those businesses to participate in the franchising process, but acknowledges that such proposals are already within the white paper.
The committee also notes worries about local authority capability capacity and capability to deliver the proposed approach, and it says that the plan for Transport for Wales (TfW) to act as a ‘guiding mind’ around the reregulation process is “not yet sufficiently developed.” TfW’s approach to business and financial planning is heavily criticised elsewhere in the report.
The return of passengers, mitigating driver shortages and integrated transport are also covered in the report, which can be found here.