Fare concern as council pays £4m for ‘empty buses’

The council is paying more than £4 million a year for “empty buses” in the hope that people return to using services once they feel safe.

Labour councillor Daniel Yates asked Brighton and Hove City Council officials to keep track of the cost.

The council had effectively been paying for nothing by maintaining services during the coronavirus pandemic, he said.

Councillor Yates raised the issue as a report to the council’s Policy and Resource Committee said that the council was paying £360,000 a month for journeys that were not happening.

The money is part of the £890,000 monthly cost of concessionary bus travel for elderly and disabled people.

But bus companies were running only 60 per cent of the concessionary travel journeys that were being funded.

And the council was paying more than twice as much for concessionary travel as similar councils, the committee was told.

It paid £42 a head for concessionary fares and supported buses compared with councils serving places such as Bristol, Coventry, Portsmouth, Southampton and York which paid £19 a head.

The annual budget for concessionary bus fares is £10.6 million in Brighton and Hove and is funded from surplus parking income.

Councillor Yates said: “I appreciate this is an amount we have been instructed to continue to give bus companies by the government in order to maintain capacity within the bus network – even though it’s capacity that currently isn’t being used, and in some cases not being provided.

“In fact, it’s an ‘empty bus’ subsidy we are providing for the value of £4.3 million a year.

“It doesn’t appear as an overspend. It’s within our existing budget. That’s the cost of covid.”

The council’s acting finance chief Nigel Manvell said that the government, through the Cabinet Office, has asked councils to support contractors, including school meal contractors, Freedom Leisure and bus companies.

Mr Manvell said that only the bus companies required support now because passenger numbers had not fully recovered – and he agreed to track the information for future reports on council finances.

  1. Valerie Reply

    Because mask wearing is not enforced on buses, many elderly and disabled have avoided the enclosed air space and too close lack of social distancing opportunity that make for considerable covid risk on buses.

    I feel really bad for the bus drivers who are at high risk. The rate of deaths in London last year was absolutely terrifying among bus drivers.

    There is NO excuse for not wearing a mask. The truculent bolshies who bang on about their rights are killing people & its got to stop.

  2. Chris Reply

    Waste of money and unnecessary bus journeys aren’t new. A few years ago I got onto a “bendy” bus in North St and was the only passenger through to Palmeira Sq. I commented to the driver who said it was rare to have anyone on that service outside the peak times and he usually just drove to and from the universities empty. I only used the bus because it was raining, I’d normally walk that distance.

    • Bob Reply

      Hi! I use the 25 and 25x to get to/from work, and sometimes at odd hours of the day when I have to go into town mid-shift.
      It’s usually fairly busy, and indeed is now *so* packed with passengers they often run just from the Unis to the Steine for faster turnaround.
      I don’t think this was a particularly recent trip you took, or maybe it was during deep lockdown.

  3. Peter Challis Reply

    And how much on top of this do we pay Green Councillor Tom Druitt to run his community Big Lemon bus services – the ones that even before the pandemic rarely had more than 1 passenger on board?

  4. Brighton Area Buswatch Reply

    Not sure this article is entirely correct. Services provided by the Council and run by The Big Lemon and Compass Travel, routes 16, 37, 37B,47 & 52 have been running at 100% of pre covid levels since last September. Commercial services run by Brighton & Hove Buses are now providing over 90% of pre covid mileage. As for claims of buses being empty, they were very busy indeed yesterday afternoon, overall passenger numbers are clearly returning to normal. The latest statistics from the Department of Transport for 2020/21 show at buses in Brighton & Hove still have the highest usage per head of anywhere outside London.

    • Daniel Yates Reply

      At the committee the costs defences were for the concessionary travel payments Andrew. Not specifically for the supported bus routes.

  5. Gary Gibbon Reply

    Cut 50% of these buses and there would be no pollution and gridlock, and no need for any ULEZ, that this inept green council are trying to impose on us.

  6. Hove Guy Reply

    It is certainly not a case of empty buses on the no.7 route, or on some of those going along Western Road. I have often been on them when it was standing room only, and even with a masks on it did not feel all that safe. However, that did not compare with the “packed like sardines”, for nearly two hours, situation on trains to and from London at weekends.

  7. Dave Reply

    The OAP bus schemes should just be a reduced fare. That way the council can top it up and accurately keep track of costs. £4 million wasted propping up private bus companies that could have been spent on fixing the terrible roads . Just because something has been budgeted for does not mean its value for money.
    This city needs to retar the vast majority of the roads, put in normal cycle lanes in appropriate places and remove the bins and concrete blocks from viaduct Road, and so on, but that will never happen if they can’t do basic maths.

  8. Spud Reply

    It is outrageous that public money is paid to bus companies, just so an old granny can go and but a tin of Whiskas for her pussy cat

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