Earlier this week, First Cymru, who operate bus services in Swansea, Neath Port Talbot, Carmarthenshire, Pembrokeshire and Bridgend announced it was cutting nine routes entirely and drastically reducing the operating frequency of dozens more services across their operating area.
First Cymru’s Managing Director, Doug Claringbold, said some changes to the network in south and west Wales were inevitable after the Welsh Government announced the lower levels of support, which is essential given the significant, ongoing drop in passenger numbers.
Announcing the cuts to services, Mr Claringbold said: “We recognise the Welsh Government has had some tough decisions to make as it changes the way it funds bus services. At the same time, we share the disappointment customers will feel from the knock-on impact that will have on some routes. We are committed to getting more people to use the bus, and adequate levels of funding are essential where passenger numbers are below the cost of operating services.”
Local authorities and opposition parties have lined up to criticise the Welsh Government’s funding arrangements and expressed concern that further cuts are likely in April 2024.
Neath Port Talbot Council’s Cabinet Member for Strategic Planning, Transport and Connectivity, Cllr Wyndham Griffiths, said: “We will continue lobbying the Welsh Government to
increase funding for our bus services and provide transport for those who use buses regularly and those who without access to private cars.
“One of the most immediate concerns is the impact on employment opportunities. With reduced bus services many residents are facing substantial hurdles in accessing their places of work and this situation threatens not only the financial stability of people and their families but the economic prosperity of the region as a whole.
“We accept these are difficult financial times but we urge the Welsh Government to reconsider its allocation so public transportation here and across Wales can be accessible, reliable
Councillor Rhys Sinnett, Pembrokeshire Council’s Cabinet Member for Resident Services, said the County Council would continue lobbying Welsh Government to increase funding for bus services.
“One of the most immediate concerns is the impact for Pembrokeshire people in accessing employment opportunities,” he said.
“With reduced bus services many residents are facing substantial hurdles in getting to work and this situation threatens not only the financial stability of people and their families but the economic prosperity of the region as a whole.
“We accept these are difficult financial times but we strongly urge the Welsh Government to reconsider its funding decisions so public transportation here and across Wales can be accessible, reliable and viable.”
Concerns have risen recently that April 2024 could see many further reductions locally and across Wales as subsidies dry up.
Welsh Government’s Bus Emergency Scheme (BES) which supported the bus industry through the Covid pandemic has now been replaced by the Bus Transition Fund (BTF) with its budget capped at £46m for the 2023/2024 financial year.
The funding, with £4m of it dedicated to the Traws Cymru Network, is allocated directly to bus operators across Wales’s 22 local authorities.
Reacting to the news of First Cymru’s cuts, Welsh Conservatives Shadow Transport Minister, Natasha Asghar MS said: “With the Labour Government in Wales cutting Bus funding, this was an inevitable and unfortunate consequence. Throw in Labour’s disastrous blanket 20 mph speed limits into the mix and bus services will be feeling further pressures.
“People rely on bus services for work, shopping and socialising, but Labour’s plans have effectively isolated people and cut off communities. As I have said previously, this ludicrous policy coupled with slashing bus budgets will put more hardship on people across Wales.
“This is all whilst bus fares in Wales have increased by 6.3%, but outside of London in England, they’ve gone down by 7.4%.”
Also commenting, Welsh Conservative Senedd Members for South Wales West, Tom Giffard MS and Dr Altaf Hussain MS said: “With the Labour Government in Wales slashing funding for bus services, it is no surprise that the industry is having to adapt in order to remain financially viable.
“Unfortunately, this adaptation is resulting in a significant withdrawal of services. There will understandably be significant disappointment amongst residents across South Wales West.
“It’s now crucially important that the Labour Government takes swift action to ensure there is a suitable bus service provides for those who rely on it.”
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