Plans to upgrade Somerset’s bus network suffer a setback as central government provides less than a tenth of the funding needed
Plans to upgrade the Somerset bus network hit a snag, with the government providing less than a tenth of the required funding.
Somerset County Council has drawn up a Bus Service Improvement Plan (BSIP) following a request from the Department of Transport (DfT) as part of the government’s ‘Bus back better’ initiative. The council has submitted a request to the government for £163million, with the plan officially taking effect on April 1 and the improvements being phased over a ten-year period.
But the DfT provided just £11.9million in funding to Somerset out of a £7billion pot – just over 7% of what officers would have thought needed. Transport Secretary MP Grant Shapps said on Monday (April 4) that the funding would help correct the historic imbalance in transport funding in favor of London and the South East.
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He said: “Buses are the most popular way to get around this country – but for too long people outside London have had a raw deal. The investment we are making today to accelerate the revolution buses will bring fares down at a time when people’s finances are tight and help connect communities across England.”
Somerset’s allocation of £11.9m compares poorly to three of its close neighbours, with Devon receiving £14.1m, Cornwall pocketing £23.5m and the West England and North Somerset receiving £105.5million. A council spokesman said: “£11million is well below our aspiration to transform bus services in the county, but we have always known it will take a sustained campaign and not just a single round of funding. to achieve the ambitions we outlined in the Somerset BSIP.
“We will be working closely with the DfT to target the funding we have received wisely and to advocate for more. It is likely that a county agreement, much more likely after the creation of the new unitary Somerset Council, will give us the next opportunity to realize the vision of bus services the county deserves.”
Seven key measures have been included in the BSIP to improve Somerset bus services and increase passenger numbers across the county:
- Electrify Taunton Park & Ride to reduce emissions
- More frequent services throughout the day, including a minimum hourly core network by 2023 with guaranteed services from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and a “last bus time” on strategic axes
- M5 Corridor Improvements to reflect housing growth and employment opportunities in Bridgwater, Taunton and Wellington
- Extension of services in rural areasincluding more transport on demand (TRD) in the evening and on weekends
- Cheaper and easy to understand ticketswhich can be used on services run by several different operators – as well as contactless payment and “flat rate urban areas” in Bridgwater, Taunton and Yeovil
- Improvements to existing bus stations in Bridgwater, Wells and Yeovil, and working with partners to create a new facility in Taunton
- Stricter town planning rules to ensure buses can serve new residential developments, with financial contributions guaranteed by homebuilders
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The Somerset Bus Partnership, which campaigns for more frequent and better-funded bus services across the county, expressed disappointment with the government‘s announcement – co-chair Peter Travis describing it as ‘a slap in the face for the county and its passengers of bus”. He added: “Only those who believe that a glass 7% full is better than a glass 93% empty can possibly welcome this news.
“Somerset has the lowest rated bus services in England and the second lowest bus journey per person – and yet transport accounts for nearly half of all our county’s carbon emissions. If a local transport authority deserved a generous reward for improving its bus services, this is Somerset.”