Overhaul of buses in Derbyshire could see cheaper fares and better service
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The Government asked councils to either launch a franchise – buying up control of bus services – or to work in partnership with private firms to make urgent improvements.
The key aims are to provide more frequent services at a lower cost to passengers, along with priorities to provide regular buses for isolated areas and the potential for more environmentally-friendly vehicles.
Derbyshire County Council has promptly ruled out the vastly expensive and legally complex process of starting a franchise, which would strip private firms of their services and leave the authority needing to buy vehicles and depots and ask companies to bid for routes.
It must publish a detailed improvement plan by the end of October and have an “enhanced partnership” agreement in place from April next year, as mandated by central government.
Cllr Kewal Singh Athwal, highways cabinet member is also keen to promote “cleaner and greener” buses.
He said: “We want to try and improve our bus services, to improve our connectivity within our towns and villages and have some more frequency and have a cheaper form of travel.
“It helps not only in connecting communities but also, hopefully, the climate in the sense of perhaps taking more vehicles off the road and more bus use will be encouraged by having cheaper fares and better connectivity.”
“My aims are to give our residents in Derbyshire a better value, cheaper service, a more regular service and more frequency of buses, cleaner buses and better quality buses.”
The council currently spends £35 million a year on transport services including school transport. This includes £10 million to give older and disabled people free off-peak travel.
Derbyshire bus services have been hit by some of the highest budget cuts of all English authorities in the past few years.
In late 2019, data published by the Campaign for Better Transport shows that the county has been stripped of more than half of its funding for bus services.
The county is one of the largest and most rural counties in England and for thousands of residents buses are the only mode of transport available.
Routes in Derbyshire are often only used by a handful of people, but for those residents they represent a vital lifeline.
It has had 60 per cent of its government funding for bus services cut since 2010 – from £7.2 million to £2.9 million. This was the fifth largest reduction of all of English local authorities.
However, the data also shows that the county council now subsidises the highest total number of miles travelled by local bus services – 16.2 million miles, more than any other English council.
It supports the sixth-highest proportion of bus miles – lending subsidies to 22 per cent of the overall miles covered by buses in the county.
But due to reduced funding, the authority cut council support for 26 routes in 2018 – more than any other local authority.
Cllr Simon Spencer, highways cabinet member at the time, said many of the county’s routes had a higher “cost per head” due to the geographic size of Derbyshire, along with its hilly terrain, making rural routes more expensive and less profitable.