However, councils are warning that DRT services are not a substitute for government investment in traditional bus services, with less than 20% of councils saying they are financially sustainable to operate in the future, with 95% of services operating at a loss.
Analysis from the County Councils Network (CCN) has found that bus services are at ‘historic low’ in county and rural areas, with more than one in every four bus services vanishing over the past decade, with 344 million fewer journeys in 2022 as a result of reduced services.
With the severe reductions in bus routes, and recent investment being prioritised towards cities and urban areas, county authorities have stepped in where there are limited or no buses, and are increasingly rolling out DRT services.
Working in a similar way to taxis, DRT is a type of shared transport for people who can book on to travel from a specific location and has historically complemented mainstream bus services by offering direct transport from residents’ homes to places such as shops and to health services.
The survey showed that there is a clear need for bus services in areas where no traditional buses operate, with hundreds of thousands of journeys taking place on DRT services each year across county areas.
However, the CCN argues that these services are not a substitute for new investment in commercial bus routes – and many say these services are unsustainable going forward. With county authorities continuing to face severe financial pressures, the survey finds that more than four in five councils believe long-term funding from government to subsidise existing commercial routes and reinstate lost bus services is necessary.
The survey, which assessed the breadth of DRT services being rolled out by local authorities, finds:
The findings come as the government’s ‘Network North’ plan promises to spend hundreds of millions more on local buses and extend the £2 cap on single fares.
The CCN is calling on the government to ensure new funding is directed towards county and rural councils, with their research showing these areas have seen the biggest levels of decline in passengers but the least funding from Bus Service Improvement Plans.
Cllr Stephen-Giles Medhurst, Transport Spokesperson for the County Councils Network, said:
“Reliable and frequent bus services are a lifeline for many residents in county and rural areas. However, CCN research has shown that traditional bus services are at a historic low, with one in four routes lost over the past decade.
“County authorities have had to innovate and step in – putting in place demand responsive transport to fill the gap left by the decline in commercial buses. They have proved popular with residents who use them, particularly the elderly, who need transport for essential journeys, such as shopping and doctors’ appointments.
“While this survey shows DRT services play an increasingly important role, they are there to complement existing bus services – not a substitute for them. With councils facing unprecedented financial pressures, sustainable investment from government in traditional bus services remains the priority in ensuring a comprehensive local transport network.
“With urban areas and cities prioritised in recent government investment, it is therefore critical that county and rural areas are prioritised for funding as part of government’s latest commitments to reinvest savings from HS2 in local buses.”
Notes on CCN and the survey