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Borough's buses get another funding lifeline from council

Borough's buses get another funding boost from council

17 February 2023
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an orange Thames Valley Buses vehicle on a sunny day

Subsidised bus routes in Wokingham Borough have received a funding boost to keep them going until new long-term contracts can be agreed with operators.


Wokingham Borough Council has extended its financial support, which was due to expire at the end of March, until 31 August to help them as they face reduced passenger numbers and rising costs.


The council is striving to protect buses and recognises their importance as a healthy, affordable way of getting to school, work or social commitments, especially given the cost of living crisis.


It is also committed to addressing the climate emergency while reducing air pollution and traffic congestion. Encouraging more public transport usage is key to this, alongside enabling walking and cycling where possible.


Ensuring you can get around affordably


The existing contracts first ended on 30 June last year but the council extended them with extra funding to allow a retender for the same service levels, at the same cost, over the winter. However, this was unsuccessful.


Yesterday (Thursday, 16 February), its decision-making executive agreed another extension to put these services out to tender for three more years from September, this time with scope for increased costs.


This covers subsidised routes serving Wokingham town and outlying areas, villages south of the M4, the A327 corridor and Lower Earley and Reading via Woodley and the Royal Berkshire Hospital.


Tenders for these services, currently run by Thames Valley Buses and Reading Buses, should  to go out next month with a view to awarding them in May.


Both the extended funding and new contracts will be covered, in part, by payments that developers building new homes in the borough must make towards services and infrastructure.


A growth bid for £350,000 per year has been submitted in the council's 2023-24 medium-term financial plan but, judging by previous tender submissions, may not cover current service levels. These arrangements don’t apply to routes that run on a purely commercial basis.


You can help us protect your buses


Cllr Paul Fishwick, executive member for active travel, transport and highways, said: “It's still an incredibly tough climate for bus operators, but we're determined to support them because it would be so much harder to revive any routes once they're gone.


“We know the pandemic has changed how many people work, with fewer people commuting than before, but we'd urge all residents to look at how they're travelling in their daily lives and ask themselves if they could take the bus more instead of driving.


“Looking ahead, we have to be serious about reducing as many car trips as we reasonably can - and a robust, comprehensive public transport network is critical to achieving this alongside safer, more convenient and more accessible walking and cycling routes.


"We're doing everything in our power to ensure the bus will always be an option for you and your children, but we can't do this alone and need you to support them if they are to have a future.”


Working hard to face mounting challenges


The bus industry remains under pressure due to increased running costs including fuel, maintenance and drivers' wages, combined with recruitment shortages. Passenger numbers remain lower than before covid-19 despite having recovered to about 80 per cent of pre-pandemic levels.


Nonetheless, buses play a crucial role in community life, serving more than two million passenger trips annually in Wokingham Borough including 250,000 on contracted services. The Government takes a similar view, praising buses in its February 2022 Levelling-Up white paper.


This is why the council has also revised its Bus Service Improvement Plan, a strategy document outlining ways to attract more passengers in partnership with operators. It could help secure Government funding for faster, more reliable buses, greener bus technologies, more access in rural areas, better links to walking and cycling routes and more, though no money is allocated yet.


The council's leader Cllr Clive Jones has also urged transport secretary Mark Harper MP to extend central support for buses beyond 31 March. Several Government grants and subsidies are set to expire then, which will add to operators’ difficulties - forcing councils to make tough decisions.

More from Wokingham Borough Council       


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