Extensive cuts to bus services are making it harder for disabled people to access employment, education and voluntary work, according to a new report by a committee of MPs.
The transport select committee said the cuts to rural, evening and weekend services were affecting the lives of disabled, older and young people, and were also damaging their ability to reach shops and healthcare facilities.
In its report on the impact of government spending cuts on bus services in England – except for those in London – the committee says most local authorities are cutting funding for bus services, while there are likely to be even deeper cuts next year.
The English bus industry, it says, is probably facing a fall of £200 to £300 million a year in revenue, which is its “greatest financial challenge…for a generation”.
The report says 70 per cent of councils have cut funding for bus services, while some have decided to withdraw all their subsidised services.
Only last week, the campaign group False Economy released research showing how charities have lost out through council funding cuts, which included a series of Dial-a-Ride services that have either faced cuts or have had their council funding removed completely.
The committee’s report backs the government’s commitment to protect free bus travel for older and disabled people, but points out that the scheme does not apply to most of England’s 1,700 community transport providers — most of which are independent charities that provide transport such as dial-a-ride bus services.
The committee calls on the government to introduce new laws that would allow the concessionary bus pass to be used on a wider range of community transport services.
The report welcomes the extra £10 million funding from the Department for Transport to encourage the growth of community transport in rural areas, but says such schemes are “unlikely to replace more than a small fraction of withdrawn local authority-subsidised bus services”.
The report also calls on local authorities to carry out proper consultations on any further cuts to bus services.
Douglas Gilroy, vice-president of the National Federation of the Blind of the UK (NFB UK), who has yet to read the full report, said: “For blind and partially-sighted people, public transport is an essential part of their ability to move about society. They have little alternative or access to a private vehicle.
“I think it is unreasonable and unacceptable for travel connections to be withdrawn without any prior consultation or notice.”
He said NFB UK hoped to hear from a speaker from the Confederation of Passenger Transport UK at the charity’s annual general meeting in London on 3 September, and added: “I am sure this topic will come up.”
Norman Baker, the Liberal Democrat transport minister, said that nearly four-fifths of bus services outside London do not rely on direct funding from councils, while the government had “protected the concessionary travel scheme in full and provided £10 million of extra funding for community transport in rural areas”.
He said the government “accepts that the overall funding settlement for local authorities is challenging” and is “keeping a close eye on whether councils are approaching this imaginatively, finding savings in procurement and back room staff, or just reaching for the axe and cutting front line services”.
The government will respond formally to the report this autumn.