Thursday, 1 March 2012

Biggest Fall in Passengers for a Decade

As the north of the country continues to feel the effects of the UK's climate of austerity more noticeably than the south, there was further bad news today for people living in Scotland - and for the bus companies who rely on them for income.

The Scottish Government’s Transport Scotland agency has announced that bus journeys in Scotland have slumped to their lowest level in more than a decade, with passenger numbers falling by 6 per cent in 2009-10 to 438 million.

Get beyond the most heavily-populated central belt between Glasgow and Edinburgh, however, and the effects are even more noticeable, with the number of people taking the bus falling by as much as a quarter last year. In fact, the only area to show any growth was around Edinburgh.

That means that the number of people making bus journeys north of the border is at its lowest since at least 1999, and follows a peak of 498 million journeys as recently as 2007.

This is the third consecutive fall in ridership and most people believe it to be principally due to increased unemployment and an austerity-driven reduction in the number of shopping and leisure trips. Most experts believe the situation will get worse quite soon once the effects of fare increases and service cuts caused by falls in government and local authority spending start to be felt.

Free bus travel by the over-60s and disabled people also fell for a third year, to 146 million journeys.

Respected transport spokesman Gavin Booth of Bus Users UK believes that the north of Scotland had endured the biggest fall in passengers because services were less frequent and more vulnerable to cuts in local authority funding. Meanwhile, the bus companies were struggling not only with falling subsidies and fewer passengers but with higher fuel prices and other operating costs, too.

On 13 January I blogged about the growing north-south divide that was troubling Aberdeen-based First Group. Scotland is where 60% of the company's non-London revenue comes from. They were blaming the weak economy and lower consumer spending in the north for falling revenues, but the company was being doubly hampered because poor market conditions were making the sale of major assets such as bus depot sites much more difficult, robbing them of income there, too.

Going forward, there seems depressingly little to feel optimistic about.

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