Lancashire bus network poised for more services and better fare deals as part of £7m investment
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The Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) understands that the government cash – announced on Monday as part of a pledge to plough money saved from the recent cancellation of the northern leg of HS2 into other projects – had not been expected by County Hall and the authority is now exploring how best to use it.
However, the county council hopes that the funding will help it to capitalise on measures that are already being delivered as part of its £34m Bus Service Improvement Plan (BSIP). In collaboration with Blackburn with Darwen Council, that Department for Transport-funded scheme is being used to invest in infrastructure projects like bus priority routes and changes to road junctions to make journeys by bus quicker and more reliable. Cash has also been earmarked for fare initiatives.
The new £7m pot is likely to be targeted at expanding services in areas – and at times of the day – when it would be challenging to run them purely on a commercial basis.
The county council has previously agreed a so-called “enhanced partnership scheme” which sets out the basis on which it will work with bus operators to develop improvements to services which complement the delivery of the BSIP.
Reacting to the news of the extra funding, Rupert Swarbrick, Lancashire County Council’s cabinet member for highways and transport, said: “We’re already working hard to make buses in Lancashire more frequent, reliable and affordable with the £39m of funding we’ve received for our Bus Service Improvement Plan.
“[This week’s] announcement is very welcome and means we can do even more to meet our aim of creating a network which more people will use for regular journeys, with more services throughout the day, as well as at evening and weekends.
“The news that the £2 fare cap is being extended until the end of next year is also very welcome as we know this is making a difference to more people choosing to use the bus by ensuring fares are affordable.
“I’d urge everyone to check out the current offers on buses – there’s a reduced fares offer on many evening and weekend services, a flat £1 fare for all journeys after 7pm, and a ‘buy Saturday, get Sunday free’ offer,” County Cllr Swarbrock explained.
The extra cash being sent Lancashire’s way is part of a £42m package for North West buses, which local authorities can use however they see fit in order to improve services. Blackpool Council is getting £802,000 for its area and Blackburn with Darwen £880,000.
It is part of the first tranche of a promised £1 billion that the government says it will be dedicating to bus services across the North and the Midlands as part of its Network North plan – a raft of transport projects which are being funded by money that has been repurposed after the HS2 link between Birmingham and Manchester was controversially scrapped earlier this month.
Transport Secretary, Mark Harper said of the announcement: “Buses are the most popular form of public transport, which is why we are continuing to back our buses with record high levels of funding – supporting vital bus services and offering affordable travel for passengers.
“This increase in funding to deliver more reliable, frequent and affordable local bus services – and to extend the £2 bus fare cap – has only been possible with the redirected HS2 funding secured by this government making the right long-term decisions for a brighter future.”
The “Get Around For £2” bus fare cap scheme has now been extended until the end of 2024, while plans to increase the cap to £2.50 have been scrapped.