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Bus services in England slashed [updated]

Far fewer buses will be in service anywhere, and not just Sheffield. Photo AlexEveritt02 via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0).

Massive cuts in bus services across England are under way as the government dramatically cuts financial support.

And the current crisis in the bus industry is forcing smaller companies to close down. This is deliberate and avoidable government policy.


Emergency government funding, known as the Bus Recovery Grant, enabled bus services to continue through the pandemic; it will come to an end in early October. This was extended by six months after protests from the industry and unions earlier this year.

The withdrawal of the BRG, together with rocketing fuel costs, will result in hundreds of bus routes being axed. Many places will now have no bus services at all, and many others, even in urban areas, will end up with little or no service at evenings and weekends.


But bus usage across Britain has recovered strongly after the coronavirus pandemic. According to evidence from industry body, the Confederation of Passenger Transport (CPT), it had returned to around three-quarters of pre-pandemic levels by March 2022.

Government figures confirm the trend, with 109 per cent more journeys on buses in England (outside London) in the quarter ended March 2022 over the previous year and further increases since then.


Routes will be slashed across the country in rural areas like North Somerset and most urban areas – on top of the 16 per cent cut in services in the year to March 2021, a period when there was government support through the BRG.

‘Few buses will run after 10pm in South Yorkshire.’

South Yorkshire for example, with a population of 1.4 million, will be severely affected. Just a few bus routes will run after 10pm across Doncaster, Rotherham and Sheffield and none after 7pm in Barnsley. And nineteen routes disappeared suddenly in early August when local company Powell’s went under.

The Bournemouth Corporation bus company, Yellow Buses, closed its doors at the end of July after 120 years. 250 workers lost their jobs overnight, although many were re-employed by a local subsidiary of transport national Go Ahead which has taken over some of Yellow’s routes. Unite has sought reassurances about protecting both jobs and pensions.


Dozens of bus routes will disappear in West Yorkshire, with severe cuts in other urban areas of northern England. And under pressure from central government to make cuts, Transport for London is currently consulting on bus route closures across the capital.

The government’s National Bus Strategy, published in March 2021, promised so much – a vision for the future with “simpler fares, thousands of new buses, improved routes and higher frequencies”. But as with almost every other government policy and strategy, the reality is different.

‘The government is intent on forcing contraction in bus services everywhere.’

The government is clearly intent on forcing a massive contraction in bus routes and services everywhere. This approach will force many more people to use cars, if they have them, with the attendant increase in congestion and pollution. And for the considerable number that don’t have access to a car, the choice will be either expensive taxis or becoming isolated.

No progress

A report on progress with the bus strategy up to this May is full of reasons for a lack of progress – although apparently we’re on track with the pledge of 4,000 zero emission buses. In March the CPT, representing bus operators, called on the government to use the six-month extension in support to work out future financing. To no one’s surprise that hasn’t happened.

This failure to make progress is predicated on a belief in a long term reduction in passenger numbers, despite the evidence of a rebound in bus usage after the pandemic.


The problems of the bus industry predate the pandemic and need addressing – buses are part of the transport future and not a relic of the past. The Campaign for Better Transport and transport unions RMT and Unite, amongst others, have been campaigning on this for years and set that out again in their responses to the bus strategy.

Government pleas that the strategy vison is not affordable are undermined by companies moving profits out of Britain, as claimed by Unite earlier this month. The union also revealed that over the past 10 years Arriva UK’s bus division has paid £560 million in dividends to its parent company, Deutsche Bahn, which is effectively owned by the German government.


On 19 August the Department for Transport announced another 6-month extension to the BRG, allocating £130 million in funding, despite previous insistence there would be no more support. But there’s no sign of any long-term planning. Some operators have already planned cuts from 4 October. It's not yet clear if they will be reversed.