Lockdown in Wales resulted in an unprecedented sharp and severe drop in bus passenger numbers which in turn saw the loss of almost all ticket revenue. During this period the Welsh Government has continued funding for bus operators at pre-Covid demand levels through its Bus Emergency Scheme. This additional funding has enabled bus operators to maintain a skeleton timetable, allowing key workers to commute to work and those without a car to travel for essential food and medical supplies.
While our initial support sustained service levels of around 30% of pre-Covid levels, evidence from bus operators indicates that the easement of lockdown has resulted in an increasing demand for public transport services.
We expect this demand to increase further as children and young people return to school and college and more parents return to the work place. In addition, if conditions continue to be favourable, we will shortly be removing the Essential Travel Only restriction for public transport that has been in place since the start of lockdown. This follows on from changes to the social distancing regime and the introduction of mandatory face coverings on Public Transport.
Of course social distancing requirements also mean that buses can only carry around half the number of passengers that they were able to pre-lockdown. As a result of both reduced service patterns and social distancing, reduced capacity has resulted in people regularly being left at bus stops. This is unacceptable and we recognise that further support is required to increase capacity.
As well as affecting passengers, the reduced capacity of buses because of social distancing continues to have a damaging impact on ticket revenues. The costs of additional staffing, fuel and maintenance of the bus fleet to increase service levels cannot be met by ticket revenues and existing emergency funding alone. Additional funding is therefore required to increase the number of available bus services above current levels to meet increasing demand and ease capacity pressures.
Today I am pleased to announce that the Welsh Government is making available an additional £10m of funding to enhance scheduled bus service levels through until the end of September.
Ministers are also committed to maintaining the enhanced service levels beyond the end of this funding package. A formal announcement of a new round of funding to support the bus industry to the end of the financial year is currently being prepared
Though travel demand over the short and long term will be very different and will continue to remain uncertain, it is clear that many remain reliant on the bus network to get to work, to access education and learning, for hospital appointments, visiting friends, going shopping and to access leisure services.
We will continue to work closely with Local Authorities and operators to determine the initial routes and frequencies that will address our immediate priorities of supporting pupils’ return to school, increasing frequencies where demand exceeds capacity, and socially necessary services that will see accessibility to jobs and services improve across our regions and communities.
I will continue to keep Members updated as our interventions to support bus passengers, and the operators who provide them with a service, will continue to develop.
This statement is being issued during recess in order to keep members informed. Should members wish me to make a further statement or to answer questions on this when the Senedd returns I would be happy to do so.