DEVON will receive £14m for bus upgrades, less than half the amount originally requested by the county council.
A £34million bus improvement plan, described as “ambitious”, was tabled at the end of October. It aimed to make buses cheaper to use, greener, more frequent and more reliable.
Developed in partnership with Devon’s bus companies, the scheme included regional area tickets to simplify fares in conjunction with neighboring councils and to bring ‘youth’ tickets for 16 to 18 year olds, an age group that depends most on buses.
However, the £3bn of government funding available for the ‘bus back better’ scheme was later cut by more than half, with the long-awaited grants being announced by the Department for Transport this week.
As the county council got less than it asked for, bids from Plymouth and Torbay were completely snubbed, although neighboring Cornwall was chosen as a pilot area with fares to be ‘cut’ down to 40%, thanks to an additional £23.5million. for the county.
A spokesman for Devon County Council said: ‘We have yet to receive confirmation of this funding settlement from the Department for Transport so unfortunately we are unsure whether the money is being granted for the improvement of services, fares or bus priority.
“Until we do, we cannot comment further at this stage on what this will mean for our local bus services.”
The new funding comes at a turbulent time for Devon’s bus services, which were recently halted mainly due to a shortage of drivers, leading to cancellations and reduced timetables.
Councilor Rob Hannaford, leader of the Labor group who will seek further updates at next week’s cabinet meeting, said in response to the funding announcement: “It is very good news that Devon has received this substantial funding award, especially since last week it was said that we were not successful at all.
“However, it’s still less than half of the initial supply, and Devon is a very large county, and there is a desperate need to invest in and improve our failing bus service.”
“The initial offer was a detailed costed initiative, aiming to roll out greener and cheaper buses, alongside more regular services in rural areas to help with connectivity, and significantly reduce car journeys and pollution. “
“We will now have to see to what extent this funding can be strategically scaled up across Devon, this has a real impact, which could well mean prioritizing certain areas of the county, over others, which could mean some tough choices.”
Councilor Julian Brazil (Lib Dem, Kingsbridge) told BBC Radio Devon: ‘We’re still happy with the money, but it’s a drop in the ocean.
“I mean, when you say we bid over £30m, that was over £30m a year, not just once. It’s very good to put new buses, but next year they will have to leave because we don’t have money, so it’s not a solution in any way.
He said the hourly buses to the villages “would never come back, so we found better ways to do that with the information technology now available.”
“We need to start investing in ring-and-ride, for example [and] many more community buses. That’s the kind of ways I’m thinking of – highly customized one-to-one solutions for individual domains.;
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said of the 31 parts of the country, including Devon, receiving the money: ‘Buses are the most popular way to get around this country, but for too long , people outside of London had a rough deal.
“The investment we are making to accelerate the bus revolution will bring fares down at a time when people’s finances are tight and help connect communities across England.”