Green light for plan to help protect West Northamptonshire bus services after effects of Covid-19
The council has many responsibilities and duties in relation to bus services, but does not have a subsidised bus service budget
A plan to help prevent some bus services in West Northamptonshire from being lost due to the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic has been given the green light.
West Northamptonshire Council's Cabinet approved the plan at its meeting on Tuesday (June 8).
Members agreed to commit to the formation of an Enhanced Partnership scheme which would allow it to access funding to help transform bus services.
A cabinet report stated that as the local transport authority, the council has many responsibilities and duties in relation to bus services, but does not have a subsidised bus service budget.
Some services have been sustained by time-limited funding which is now coming to an end and this would see these particular services withdrawn as they are not considered commercial.
The current number of passengers is below the levels required for the local bus network to be commercially viable and currently, services are only being maintained through government support.
It is expected it will take some time, perhaps several years, for passenger numbers to recover to pre-Covid levels once travel restrictions and social distancing are removed.
Without ongoing financial support, operators will have no alternative but to reduce their services, which is likely to result in some communities losing their services entirely.
At the meeting, cabinet noted the challenges faced by the bus industry due to Covid-19 and the funding that is being provided by the government and council to ensure that bus services continue to operate. It also noted the publication of Bus Back Better, the National Bus Strategy for England.
It agreed to prepare a bus service improvement plan to be brought back to cabinet for approval at a later date. The reasons given for the approval were:
-To improve bus services for West Northamptonshire communities and minimise the risk of any communities losing their bus service
-To facilitate climate and environmental benefits through increasing bus use and the operation of more low emission buses
-To contribute to the implementation of the Northamptonshire Transportation Plan (the Local Transport Plan)
-To enable the council to access the funding being made available by government to support the National Bus Strategy
The report to the cabinet had stated: "In March 2021 the government published Bus Back Better, the National Bus Strategy for England which is backed by £3bn of funding to transform bus services and help the bus industry recover from Covid.
"The strategy encourages councils to form Enhanced Partnerships with the bus operators which will enable delivery of improvements for passengers such as improved timetables and multi-operator ticketing.
"The step-by-step timescales for the formation of an Enhanced Partnership are for the council to commit to form an Enhanced Partnership by 30 June 2021, publish a Bus Service Improvement Plan by the of October 2021 and have the Enhanced Partnership in place by April 2022."