Call to extend ‘vital’ public transport grant to prevent bus service cuts across Milton Keynes
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Milton Keynes City Council is calling for an extension of the Bus Recovery Grant – a pot of money provided to private bus operators to help them recover from the pandemic.
The grant, which runs until the end of March, provides financial stability at a time when operators face soaring inflation, driver shortages and fewer passengers.
However, passenger numbers have shown no sign of recovering to pre-pandemic levels. Many buses run with the majority of seats empty which means routes are operating at a loss.
Councillors fear that without a grant extension, or suitable long-term funding, private bus operators will be forced to make cuts to bus routes, drastically increase prices, or even scrap services that aren’t profitable.
Councillor Jenny Wilson Marklew, Labour Progressive Alliance Cabinet Member for Public Transport, said: “Buses are a lifeline for thousands of people across Milton Keynes. They keep communities connected and take people to work and important appointments, so it’s awful that they are under threat. Private bus companies already find themselves operating services at a loss and can’t fulfil the needs of their passengers because the Government are providing limited support.
"I fear that if the Government scraps the grant and doesn’t provide long-term funding, it could have a devastating impact and cause widescale disruption to the people of Milton Keynes.”
Although buses are run by private companies, the council provides support by subsidising concessionary fares. This includes ENCTS passes for over 65s and disabled residents, and the All In 1 Card for under 19s.
This year, the council is increasing its financial support for All in 1 Card holders to cover inflationary fare increases.
Councillor Rob Middleton, Labour Progressive Alliance Cabinet Member for Resources, added: “Just like private bus companies, the council has faced a drastic reduction in funding from Central Government so simply doesn’t have the money or resources to spend hundreds of thousands on subsidising bus routes that private operators won’t pay for anymore.
“We will continue to support public transport where we can, including by subsidising fares for children and older people, but we can’t do it all.”