The Scottish Government has extended its Network Support Grant Plus (NSG+) mechanism to support the recovery of bus services to 9 October. While the move has been welcomed by the industry, concern has been raised that “difficult decisions” on service provision will continue to be unavoidable when NSG+ payments cease.
As of 15 August, NSG+ will observe a rate of 50.4p per kilometre, down from the current 79.4p per kilometre. Beyond 9 October, all eligible operators will revert to the standard NSG package, which is paid at the rate of 14.4p per km.
An extension of NSG+ represents additional funding of £25.7m, Transport Scotland says. It is understood that a need for that further money became necessary after increasing costs for operators meant that the sum originally allocated to the revenue support scheme was likely to be exhausted much earlier than first anticipated.
The Confederation of Passenger Transport (CPT) Scotland has welcomed the extension of NSG+. In a statement, CPT Scotland says it had been told in May that the scheme would likely end early. As a result, the Confederation and its members in Scotland made a successful case to the Scottish Government for it to be retained for longer.
The resulting extension will “provide a protective roadmap” for bus services during the summer, CPT adds. It believes that the network in Scotland will be in a stronger position in the autumn via a return of educational and commuter demand. A Scottish Government supported marketing campaign to encourage bus travel will also help, CPT Scotland says.
Adds Director Paul White: “Today’s announcement means [that] recovery and planning can happen while the sector continues to operate a comprehensive network of sustainable, reliable and affordable services, rather than to the likely background of deeper cuts that would have followed had a continuation of funding not been forthcoming.”
CPT additionally notes that average bus patronage in Scotland is currently at 75% of pre-COVID-19 numbers. It says that overall, costs for operators have grown by 20% in the last 12 months. Utility price rises are causing “huge increases” in depot expenses – including for charging battery-electric buses – while the cost of staff, spare parts and tyres have also increased by double-digit percentages.
Some smaller operators have also seen fuel prices rise by “over 60%” in the same period, the Confederation adds.