City regions respond to Government’s COVID-19 funding for urban public transport

Saturday, August 8, 2020

The Urban Transport Group, the UK’s network of city region transport authorities, has today responded to the Government’s package of financial support for urban public transport as it works to keep people moving through the COVID-19 crisis.

Whilst welcoming the Government’s continued financial support for the sector, the Urban Transport Group expressed disappointment that funding does not provide the necessary certainty to plan ahead and protect services and is not linked to the end of social distancing.

Funding for bus will be offered on a rolling basis with an eight-week notice period for termination, whilst light rail funding has only been agreed for the next 12 weeks. Arrangements for supporting additional capacity on school services in the context of social distancing have yet to be finalised.

Responding to the announcement, Stephen Edwards, Chair of the Urban Transport Group and Executive Director of South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive, said:

“We welcome the Government’s continuing financial support for urban public transport at a time when patronage remains low because of COVID-19. However, capacity on board vehicles will go on being limited for the duration of social distancing and will also take time to recover afterwards. Funding support will therefore be needed throughout social distancing and beyond to enable services to recover sufficiently to become commercially viable once more. Premature removal of this support risks the loss of essential public transport services.

“On bus, whilst the introduction of rolling funding removes cliff edges to some extent, it does not provide certainty. Support could be removed at any time with just eight weeks’ notice. At present there is no clarity on what the criteria will be for termination, and, in particular, whether this will be linked to the end of social distancing. On light rail, we face a funding cliff edge in just 12 weeks’ time. Both bus and light rail provide vital transport links, supporting the return to work and education for millions of people and underpinning the restart of our economy. It’s essential that we have long-term certainty over future funding and support for both bus and light rail while social distancing measures are in place."

Stephen Edwards continued:

“We are disappointed that the funding will not be routed via transport authorities as we proposed. We will continue to make the case that this would be a far more efficient and effective way to ensure that every pound of subsidy is best deployed to provide the integrated and socially distanced public transport networks that city regions need.

“Maintaining the current format for additional COVID-19 bus funding also relies on transport authorities continuing to pay millions of pounds a month for concessionary journeys which are not being made. This is neither legally, nor fiscally, robust and is not sustainable given the parlous financial state of many local authorities. Our alternative proposal would ensure that every pound spent was contractually linked to the provision of the bus networks that are being provided and the concessionary journeys that are being made.”

Read our briefing which sets out the key issues facing urban transport authorities in their response to the coronavirus crisis here.