Essex County Council (ECC) is reviewing its support for 162 local bus services. We want your help to ensure that our future bus network is ready to meet new levels of passenger demand and is providing value for money. ECC is therefore conducting this public consultation regarding these local bus services.
This consultation will commence on 13 July 2023 and close on 5 October 2023.
As set out in the accompanying questionnaire, ECC is undertaking a review of local bus services which are paid for by Essex taxpayers. It does not cover services/journeys operated commercially by transport providers. This review covers all 12 districts in Essex with the view of assessing whether to continue providing the service and in what capacity; or whether to look for alternative solutions.
We know that buses are important to many people. For example, they help people reach employment, education, visit friends and to get to health appointments. The majority of the bus network in Essex (around 85%) is run commercially. The remaining 15% of services are not commercially viable and the transport providers will therefore not run them.
As Essex’s local transport authority, when no commercial service is provided, the County Council has a duty to consider whether one is needed, and if, in the Council’s view it is, then to provide it.
How the Council decides whether a service is needed and what services it will support are set out in its Local Bus Service Priority Policy which can be found here. The Local Bus Service Priority Policy now forms part of the Bus Service Improvement Plan so has been extended from 2020 to 2026.
ECC has a strong record for supporting local bus services and ECC remains committed to supporting an effective and efficient bus service network offering value for money to the taxpayer in the services it provides.
However, the strong financial pressures on all local government funding means that ECC must look very carefully at how it will provide all its services to make sure that the limited funding available is focused where it will be of most benefit to the public.
The services provided under this policy are paid for by Essex taxpayers. The supported network operates in rural areas, and at less popular times for travel, such as in the evenings and on Sundays. At present ECC spends around £10m of taxpayer’s money on these services each year. The local bus service priority policy includes a value for money measure to ensure that taxpayers are not funding services that are not used much or have a high cost. This measure is currently valued at £5 per passenger journey. If the cost to the taxpayer is over £5 per journey made, then ECC will review the service.
The value for money measure was suspended during Covid-19 because of changing government advice on travel during the various lockdowns and then because ECC wanted to allow services time to recover. Patronage has indeed been increasing. But there are several services which were either struggling to attract passengers even before Covid-19 or where passengers have not returned. ECC is not proposing to re-introduce the £5 measure immediately because there is still some growth in patronage. However, there are several services which are substantially over the £5 measure – in fact, they are costing taxpayers more than £10 cost per passenger journey to support.
These services are detailed later in this document alongside details of any changes or proposals.
We are consulting on:
Some of the services in this last group have had low passenger use for a considerable time. They are currently costing taxpayers over £10 per passenger journey. A list of these services is shown in table below. What we are proposing in this consultation for this group as per the upcoming pages is to either:
A re-designed or reduced service would need to either reduce costs significantly or attract much higher numbers of passengers or do both. This is because if we tender a service then it would then need to show a clear opportunity of meeting the £5 cost per passenger journey measure for us to go ahead and procure it. If it cannot show that it has the potential to meet that measure it may be withdrawn.
We would expect to make an announcement on the outcome of the consultation in Spring 2024. This means we will be using the most up to date passenger data available in any final decisions.
The outcome of the consultation may differ from the proposed changes specifically listed in the consultation tables following analysis of the response from the public.
In order for us to consider your views, we are seeking your responses on these proposals. ECC will collate all the responses from the survey and summarise them as part of our report. This report will be used to help decide whether the proposal should be implemented. We will not identify individual people and your name will not be mentioned in any reports we write for this purpose. You do not have to take part if you do not want to - this is a voluntary activity.
Together, we can create a transportation network that is efficient, accessible, and tailored to the diverse needs of passengers. Thank you for your valuable contribution in helping us shape the future of public transport.