Published on

6 June 2023

Borough's vision for better buses backed by Government

Plans to increase bus passenger numbers in Wokingham Borough by providing a better service have received a £401,322 boost from the Government.

A cartoon of a bus arriving at a bus stop on a country road

Plans to increase bus passenger numbers in Wokingham Borough by providing a better service have received a £401,322 boost from the Government.

The Department for Transport (DfT) has awarded the sum to fund some ideas outlined in the council's revised Bus Service Improvement Plan (BSIP), a long-term strategy it published earlier this year.

By making local buses more affordable and convenient, as well as better for the environment, it hopes more people will use them - giving them the best chance of surviving in challenging times.

This is crucial because the council is doing all it can to tackle the climate emergency and reduce air pollution. Promoting sustainable alternatives to driving is key to this, alongside a raft of other measures.

Working together to get everyone on board

The revised BSIP, which was published in January and covers the period 2030 to 2040, sets goals to reach in partnership with operators and other organisations like neighbouring local authorities.

These include an increase above pre-pandemic usage and service levels, faster and more reliable journeys, simpler and more affordable fares, greener fleets, closer links with other travel networks and better access in rural areas.

It suggests many ways that these could be achieved, from more efficient ticketing systems to investment in fleets and other infrastructure, but making them a reality would depend on external funding.

The council is now drawing up an "enhanced partnership", a legal agreement with local operators to decide which ideas to progress and who will be responsible for different aspects.

Making the most of funding opportunities

Cllr Stephen Conway, leader of Wokingham Borough Council, said: "This is a promising next step in our mission to make bus travel more appealing for everyone, whether for work or leisure.

"We're still in talks with the DfT about the most effective way to spend the money, and we look forward to building on our strong relationships with operators as we move any schemes forward. We’ll also keep doing all we can to attract more funding for better services in future.

"These are hard times financially, but we must keep our buses going day-to-day if we want to maintain a solid foundation for any improvements and work towards building a more sustainable, accessible and affordable network in the long term.

“To help us achieve this, we urge everyone to keep supporting local services as much as they can. We know some car trips are still necessary but before you travel, please stop to consider whether you could take the bus instead of driving."

Keeping things travelling in the right direction

The DfT's award, drawn from an £80 million pot shared between 63 local transport authorities, is part of a wider bid to help subsidised bus services recover after the coronavirus pandemic.

Although they are gradually improving, passenger numbers and income are still below pre-pandemic levels so these routes need more money to stay viable than they used to.

The council is keen to avoid having to make tough decisions in future, so it produced the BSIP to qualify for Government support and protect its own increasingly limited resources.

It is facing unprecedented financial challenges, with costs rising and income stagnating for reasons beyond its control, so must prioritise spending on core services like adult and children's social care. 

A fare deal for local passengers

Meanwhile, the Government has also extended its funding for a £2 cap on single fares, which was due to expire this summer, until 31 October. Local operators Reading BusesThames Valley Buses and Arriva are all taking part.

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