The Autumn Statement is disappointingly quiet on the increasing challenge of providing local public transport services, with apparently no mention of the bus, rail and rapid transit networks which provide vital and low-carbon connectivity to isolated communities and within our urban areas.

Commitments to the government’s transformative railway growth plans are naturally welcomed by the towns and cities which they will serve but have almost no impact on today’s travellers struggling with reduced public transport services and increased costs of living. Confirmation that successful bids to the second round of the government’s Levelling Up Fund will be announced before the end of the year is also welcome. However, the extent to which the competitively allocated infrastructure funding will benefit public transport passengers remains to be seen.

For the West Midlands and Greater Manchester, the potential for new ‘trailblazer’ deals to remove their combined authorities from competitive bidding processes certainly sounds beneficial but will depend on the scale of funding each receives and the flexibility given in how it can be spent.

Fundamentally only so much can be achieved for public transport through moderate capital spend; infrastructure improvements which improve journey times and reliability are needed, but rarely have such measures reduced operating costs and increased passenger revenues to the extent that service frequencies have improved. What would truly benefit local public transport users is additional – ideally ringfenced – funding that can be used to provide targeted support to services which provide vital connectivity but where revenue doesn’t currently sufficiently cover their costs of operation.

Steve Hunter contact details



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