BUS services across Dorset will be drastically reduced unless the government takes action, South Dorset MP Richard Drax has warned.
Speaking in the House of Commons, he asked for the Bus Service Operators Grant (BSOG) to continue beyond 2017 to ensure residents in the remote parts of Dorset have a service.
The BSOG enables bus operators to claim back fuel duty from the government so that they are able to continue rural bus services on which they makes a loss.
But the funding source has only been ringfenced until 2017, and ‘operators in South Dorset are warning that any further cuts will inevitably lead to service reductions right across the bus network.’
MP Drax asked whether ‘governments of all colours have a duty to preserve some form of service—preferably, as many of my colleagues have suggested, a better-integrated service, but at least a service —to support those who live in rural areas?’
He said rural bus services provide a ‘genuine lifeline for many’ and ‘we must do all we can to protect them.’
MP Drax added: “May I ask the Government to consider a fairer way of sharing the financial burden of concessionary travel across the United Kingdom?
“I am thinking especially of counties such as Dorset, where tourism effectively penalises bus operators. As I said, Dorset is a major tourist attraction, but it suffers a great deal more than other counties that may not attract so many visitors. Our bus companies are, in effect, being paid a third of the price of a ticket.
"The overall benefits of buses need hardly be rehearsed.
"Last year five billion journeys were made in the United Kingdom, a fifth of them by commuters.
“Those benefits, social and economic, are incontrovertible. Residents of rural areas spend between 20 and 30 percent more on transport than their city counterparts.
“The need is there, and in some cases it is desperate.”
Labour’s parliamentary candidate for South Dorset, Simon Bowkett, said: "While I welcome Mr Drax’s apparent concern on this issue, I would urge him to move away from gesture politics in Westminster and to use his platform to bring real change right here in Dorset.
"Since his government came to power in 2010 local authority bus subsidies across shire counties and unitary authorities have been cut by 23% in real terms, and in Dorset the County Council - led by councillors from Mr Drax’s own party - has agreed budget cuts to our local bus subsidies of £850,000 – leaving Dorset’s bus subsidy budget at £2.15 million, half the average subsidy of over £4 million for other shire county councils.”