Over a third (36%) of the local transport authorities in Great Britain had to cut supported bus services in 2016/17, ATCO’s latest report on council passenger
transport services shows 1. It is estimated that average budget increases between 2.3% and 3.1% will be needed in 2017/18 in order to maintain the existing levels of local bus and educational transport services paid for by local councils. John Carr, Chair of the ATCO Performance Executive, said “The results from our latest annual survey of prices, expenditure, competition and performance in local authority passenger transport services shows that councils continue to face an uphill struggle to keep passenger transport services for those that most need them. Year upon year of Government spending restrictions and increasing costs for operators have left the reality of many elderly people without cars having free bus travel passes but no buses to use them on. Several councils, including some of the largest counties, have ceased to fund socially necessary bus services at all.”

This situation has arisen despite contract prices for subsidising socially necessary bus services falling for the 8th consecutive year (an average of 2.0% less in 2015/16 than in the previous year) and school bus and Special Educational Needs (SEN) contract prices falling for the 10th consecutive year (averaging 8.3% less and 2.3% less respectively in the 12 months to 31st March 2016).

Many bus operators have worked with Councils to ensure the reducing funds available are put to best use. However operators are also experiencing cost pressures, with the Confederation of Passenger Transport’s CPT Cost Index at June 1 Association of Transport Co-ordinating Officers (ATCO) Local Authority Passenger Transport Survey 2016. As a result there is concern that
the rate of withdrawal of commercial3 bus services has increased. Some operators are terminating their subsidised service contracts early as well. The net cost of providing replacement local bus, school and SEN transport contracts in 2015/16 increased by 27% from £5.4m in the previous year to almost £7m. Barely half of all the commercial bus services withdrawn are being replaced, although local authorities are managing to replace over 90% of all transport contracts terminated early because they were no longer viable for the operators.

In 2016, the Survey consolidated two separate surveys to reduce the burden on local authority staff. Nevertheless several Councils responded that because of reorganisation and/or reduced staffing to meet reduced budgets they were unable to complete the Survey this year. In all, 73 out of 130 Local Transport Authorities outside London (which operates under different legislation) responded to the survey which gives a unique snapshot of local authority spending on passenger transport.

Roger Banks who manages the survey said

“ATCO is very grateful to the officers in the authorities that contributed to the Survey in an exceptionally busy year. With continuing pressure on local authority expenditure the ATCO surveys have a vital role not only in tracking how money is spent but also in enabling authorities to benchmark themselves against their peers. They are also a valuable resource for central government departments, researchers and private sector organisations”.

Headline results from the 2016 survey include:

  • Despite continuing local bus service contract price reductions, local authorities continue to face challenges to budget constraints, with 36% having had to cut supported bus services in 2016/17; on average a 2.3% increase in budget is needed in 2017/18 in order to maintain the current levels of local bus services.
  • Although replacement mainstream school and SEN transport contract prices fell for the 10th consecutive year (averaging 8.3% less and 2.3% less respectively than in the previous year), local authorities estimate on average a need to increase their SEN budgets by 3.1% in 2017/18 in order to retain existing SEN transport service levels.
  • On average, the rate of withdrawal of unsupported (“commercial”) local bus services has increased marginally since 1 October 2015. The estimated net cost of providing replacement local bus, school and SEN transport services in the 12 months to 31 March 2016 increased by 27% from £5.4m in the previous year to almost £7m. Barely half of the commercial bus services withdrawn by operators are being replaced.
  •  Competition for local bus service contracts has reduced, with an average of 2.9 bids per contract, 30.9% of contracts had only one bid, and 1.8% had no bids. So almost a third of contracts had no competition.
  • Competition for school transport and SEN transport contracts has also reduced, although it remains fairly strong, with an average of 3.7 and 5.9 bids per contract respectively and competition for around 90% of contracts, with under 2% of contracts having no bids.
  •  The estimated total annual local authority expenditure in Great Britain (excluding London) on the provision of local bus services is currently £280m.
  •  The estimated total annual local authority expenditure in Great Britain (excluding London) on the provision of unconventional road passenger transport services (such as dial-a-ride or taxibuses) is currently £60m.
  •  The estimated total annual local authority expenditure (excluding London and the English PTEs) on the provision of mainstream school transport is £540m.
  •  The estimated total annual local authority expenditure on the English and Welsh national concessionary travel schemes is £835m. London and Scotland have separate schemes for which data is not available.
  •  The estimated total annual local authority expenditure (excluding London and the English PTEs) on the provision of SEN transport is £470m.
  •  The estimated total annual local authority expenditure (excluding London and the English PTEs) on the provision of adult social care transport is £165m.
  •  Some 35% of all bus trips in England (excluding London) were made by holders of the English National Concessionary Travel Scheme (ENCTS) pass in 2016. Usage has reduced in the PTE areas but there is a generally rising trend nationally.
  • The number of concessionary travel passes in circulation (excluding London) is currently 11.15m (of which 1.06m are for younger disabled people), and the overall take-up rate for elderly people is 82%.
  • The average reimbursement cost of concessionary travel per concessionary permit issued has increased by 10% between 2015 and 2016, to £88.25: its highest level since 2009. Data is limited for Wales and Scottish data is not available.
  •  There has generally been a steady increase in the average reimbursement cost per head of those qualifying by age for the national concessionary travel schemes, with an increase in 2016 of 13% to £82.64, its highest level since the start of data collection in 2007. Again the cost is significantly higher in the predominantly urban areas. Data is limited for Wales and Scottish data is not available.
  • There has been a general upward trend in the average reimbursement fare paid to bus operators for concessionary travellers, although it has reduced by over 3% between 2015 and 2016.
  •  As expected, bus service reliability is better in the rural areas which are less affected by congestion and have many longer and less frequent services with greater potential to recover lost time.
  •  29% of all bus stops in Great Britain (excluding London) have a shelter.
  •  63% of all bus stops in Great Britain outside London have an information display.
  •  31% of all bus stops in Great Britain (excluding London) have a level boarding facility.
  •  The total annual local authority expenditure (excluding London) on the provision of public transport information is £17m.
  •  The total annual local authority capital expenditure on passenger transport in England (excluding London and the PTE areas) is £405m.
ATCO Press Release 2016 LAPTS (185.8 KiB, 88 downloads)

1 Association of Transport Co-ordinating Officers (ATCO) Local Authority Passenger Transport Survey 2016
2 CPT Cost Index (published 20-09-2016)
3 Commercial services are provided by operators at their own risk and are not planned or financially supported by local authorities.