Labour has pledged £1.3bn a year to reverse cuts to 3,000 bus routes in England and Wales that have been “devastated by nine years of austerity”.
Ahead of next week’s local elections, Jeremy Corbyn made a pitch to voters in towns and rural areas by promising to pour cash into public transport amid a 45 per cent reduction in local authority bus budgets since 2010.
Analysis of official data by the party revealed £645m per year of real terms cuts since 2009/10, while the Campaign for Better Transport estimates some 3,000 routes have been cut or withdrawn over the same period.
Labour promised to reverse the cuts and invest the same amount again to grow the bus network, using cash raised through a dedicated vehicle excise duty.
It comes as pollsters warned the Conservatives face a “Brexit deficit” at the local elections on 2 May as voters turn away from Theresa May’s party in frustration at the failure to secure a withdrawal agreement.
There are 8,374 seats up for grabs in England alone on the 2 May poll, including 33 metropolitan councils, 119 district councils, and 30 unitary authorities.
Speaking ahead of a visit to Nottingham, the Labour leader said: “Bus services have been devastated by nine years of austerity. Thousands of routes have been axed, fares have soared and passenger numbers are in freefall.
“Local services are a lifeline for many, particularly the elderly and those in rural areas. Cuts have had disastrous consequences for our towns and city centres and for air pollution and the environment.
“Bus networks are essential for towns and cities and for tackling rural poverty and isolation, which is why Labour is committed to creating thriving bus networks under public ownership.”
Department for Transport figures show the number of local bus passenger journeys in England fell by 85 million or 1.9 per cent to 4.36 billion in the year to March 2018.
Retired people and those with a disability are legally entitled to free bus passes, so stretched councils are spending less in other areas such as free peak travel, post-school transport and supported rural services.
Shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald said: “The Tories have neglected buses, along with the people and communities who rely on them.
“Slashing bus funding damages our communities by cutting people off from work and leisure and worsening congestion and air pollution.”
Mick Cash, general secretary of transport union RMT, said any reversal of “horrendous” cuts would be welcomed by passengers and workers alike.
He added: “The threat of climate change and the importance of buses to our communities and economy means we cannot afford not to invest in our bus services.”
Tom Fyans, deputy chief executive at the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), said: “As the number of post offices, pubs and village stores closing down continues to rise, communities across the countryside are becoming more and more reliant on local bus services.
“The fact that these have disappeared at rate just as fast as local shops and services over recent years has made rural life increasingly difficult for many people, particularly for those on low incomes.”
Register for free to continue reading
Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism
By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists
Already have an account? sign in
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies