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More than one in four bus services in England have been cut over the past decade as the pandemic hastened the decline, a transport charity has found.

Almost 5,000 routes have been axed since 2012, with the North West and East of England being the two worst affected regions.

Research by the Campaign for Better Transport has shown that 27% of bus services, measured by mileage, have disappeared in a decade, while the number of services on official registers in England has fallen from almost 17,000 in March 2012 to just over 12,000 last March.

The biggest drop in bus kilometers traveled came during the pandemic, with an 18% drop, compared to a 10% drop through 2019.

The charity has called for a government-led nationwide campaign to encourage people to get back on the roads across the country, while urging ministers to prioritize investment in buses and cut fares rather than reduce fuel taxes for motorists.

Paul Tuohy, chief executive of the Campaign for Better Transport, said: “Buses are used by millions of people and should play a central role in a green transport future, but they have been struggling for some time and the pandemic made things much worse.

“Last week’s spring statement provided tax relief for motorists with a 5p reduction in fuel tax, but nothing for public transport users, although fares have risen at a much higher rate. than fuel.”

The charity highlighted steps taken in other countries to incentivize the use of public transport after the end of Covid lockdowns. Germany and New Zealand have both slashed fares, while Wales last week launched a campaign including fare offers to get passengers back on board.

Fares in England for buses – like trains – have risen far beyond the growth in average workers’ wages over the past decade, as well as rising fuel prices, even after the recent surge in pumps . According to the RAC Foundation, fares for buses and coaches have increased by 58% over the past decade, while petrol has increased by 19%.

Government plans to reverse the decline of buses have failed during the pandemic. Shortly before the first lockdown, the government announced plans to publish a national strategy with £3bn of additional funding. The strategy, Bus Back Better, was released in 2021, but much of the money went to emergency funding for operators after passengers were told to avoid unnecessary travel.

Fears that the networks could be further reduced when emergency Covid funding ended in April have been temporarily averted, with the announcement of additional £150m support from the Department for Transport last month.

However, ministers made it clear that the funding would expire in October 2022, encouraging services to then be adapted to meet demand, which is around 80% of pre-pandemic levels.

The Urban Transport Group, which represents regional towns with major bus networks, called on the government to “use the next six months to put in place a long-term, improved and decentralized approach to funding bus services”. of the type described in its strategy. . He also urged the government to campaign to get people back on buses, after warning them to stay off public transport due to Covid.

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