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The bus market outside London is deregulated and decisions regarding service provision are primarily a commercial matter for bus operators. Local authorities are free to make their own decisions about the areas under their care, provided they take account of the relevant legislation.
Local councils are encouraged to utilise the tools in the Bus Services Act 2017, to help improve rural bus services and increase passenger numbers.
The Government provides £43 million of the Bus Service Operators Grant (BSOG) directly to local authorities so that they can subsidise socially necessary bus services. As part of the 2018-19 local government finance settlement, the Government responded to a number of councils’ concerns over rural services funding by increasing the Rural Services Delivery Grant to £81 million. The 2019-20 settlement increased the Grant to the same level.
The additional £5 billion announced by the Prime Minister will boost bus services by including higher frequency services, new priority schemes to make routes more efficient, more affordable, simpler, fares and at least 4,000 new Zero Emission Buses.
This is on top of the £220 million Better Deal for Bus Users package announced by the Government on 30 September to transform bus services across the country. This includes funds for £20 million to support demand responsive services in rural and suburban areas, which local authorities can bid for.
This package contains a further £30 million of funding to improve current services and restore lost services.