What is the current situation?
The County Council currently supports a number of passenger transport services across Hampshire. These are listed in more detail in the Passenger Transport Appendix. This information also includes the numbers of passenger trips made on each service and the cost to the County Council each time a passenger makes a journey on each service.
The County Council currently spends around £2.7 million per year through passenger transport budgets directly supporting community transport and local bus services.
Our general passenger transport duties as a County Council
We have duties within the Transport Act 1985 which apply to us when deciding what passenger transport services we consider are appropriate to secure. One of these duties means we must have regard to the transport needs of older persons and those with disabilities. We will observe our Transport Act duties when considering these proposals.
Community transport services
We currently fund the following passenger transport services:
1. Connect: Dial-a-Ride and Call and Go
A bookable door-to-door accessible transport service which provides an alternative to a bus network for individuals who meet one or more of the below criteria:
- They find it difficult to use or access public bus services.
- They live more than 400 metres from an available bus service/stop.
- They have no access to a car and there is no bus service when they need to travel.
Passengers do not need to be registered disabled, but need to live in the service area. These services are jointly funded by the County Council and borough, district, city, town and parish partners. These services cost the County Council around £500,000 per year. In 2022/23, around 54,000 individual trips were undertaken on these services.
Currently users pay £6 for a local return journey and £7 for a longer return journey.
2. Connect: Taxishares
These services run to a timetable, just like a bus, but a taxi or private hire vehicle collects the passenger once a booking has been made. The service only runs if someone books to travel. Passengers are collected from their home address or their nearest bus stop and taken to a designated drop-off point. Most services are available to anyone within the service operating area, though for some services passengers need to meet extra criteria. The County Council spends around £157,000 each year on these services and in 2022/23, around 18,000 individual trips were made on Connect: Taxishares.
Currently users pay £1 per journey.
3. Connect: Group Hire Services
Group Hire Services allow local voluntary and community groups, schools and local councils to hire fully accessible minibuses for regular or one-off trips, with or without a driver. These operate across all the districts of Hampshire and receive £142,000 in support from the County Council each year. In 2022/23, these vehicles were hired around 5,500 times, with around 59,000 individual trips undertaken on these services.
Currently groups split the cost of the transport between the passengers travelling.
4. Wheels to Work
Wheels to Work is a moped loan scheme for people aged 16-25 living in the Test Valley or New Forest districts, or 16 and over who live in Winchester or East Hampshire districts who do not have access to their own private or public transport and need to get to work, training, apprenticeship or an interview. The moped can be used for three months to a year.
In 2022/23, there were 22 mopeds available to hire and these were hired by 34 different individuals. The average hire lasted 11 months and hirers undertook around 700 miles per hire. The County Council spends around £73,000 each year on this scheme.
There are 58 bus service routes in Hampshire supported financially by the County Council. These are usually routes which do not have enough passengers travelling on them to cover the costs of providing them, most of which are in rural or semi-rural locations. Our funding supports them at certain times of the day, or for part of the route.
We currently spend around £800,000 from our budget each year to support these bus routes. We also receive a £1.1 million grant from central Government which we use to further subsidise the bus network.
In addition, we contract a further 35 services through funding received from other sources, such as housing developers, other local authorities and the school transport budget.
Combined, these 93 services provide around 9% of bus journeys in Hampshire. The other 91% of journeys are made on commercial services, which do not receive funding via the County Council.
National Concessionary Travel Scheme (older person's and disabled person's bus pass schemes)
The County Council administers the English National Concessionary Travel Scheme in Hampshire. This is where bus operators receive reimbursement for every person who travels with a bus pass. This scheme offers free travel between 9.30am and 11pm Monday to Friday and all day at the weekend. Legally we must offer this service, which means it is not in the scope of these savings.
However, the County Council goes beyond our legal requirement to allow:
- holders of a disabled person's bus pass free travel before 9.30am and after 11pm, Monday to Friday, costing the County Council around £70,000 each year
- holders of a disabled person's bus pass the option to apply for a companion pass if they cannot travel alone, allowing free travel for their companion and costing the County Council around £3,000 each year
- holders of an older person's bus pass travelling on eligible infrequent services to use their bus pass between 9am and 9.30am, costing the County Council around £1,500 each year
Connection between our passenger transport budget and other Hampshire County Council budgets
The County Council's passenger transport services support many of the County's residents, including school children travelling to school and vulnerable adults accessing vital services. This current approach potentially reduces demand on other County Council services such as school transport and Adults' Health and Care Services.
What is being proposed?
We are proposing to reduce the amount of money we spend on the County Council's passenger transport provision by around £1.7 million each year. We propose to do this by:
- withdrawing all Hampshire County Council funding (around £900,000) from the following services:
- Connect: Dial-a-Ride and Call & Go
- Connect: Taxishares
- Connect: Group Hire Services
- Wheels to Work
- withdrawing around £800,000 of Hampshire County Council funding for bus services
- withdrawing around £75,000 of additional funding for the Concessionary Travel Scheme. This would mean that the County Council does not provide any additional entitlements above those prescribed by the national scheme. NB: central Government is currently consulting and may change what we are legally obliged to do for the English National Concessionary Scheme – we would only be able to withdraw this funding if it is still legally allowed after the central Government consultation
Why is this being proposed?
Until a sustainable long-term national funding solution can be found to address the intense financial pressures facing not only the County Council, but also wider local government, we have no choice but to consider changing or reducing services in some areas and propose options for savings.
Withdrawing these could contribute around £1.7 million each year towards addressing the County Council's overall anticipated £132 million budget deficit from April 2025.
How would the proposals be implemented?
Feedback from this consultation would help us understand whether it is appropriate to take the proposals described above forward for approval through the County Council's democratic process. We are seeking views from all residents, in particular older people and those with disabilities, on the above proposals.
If proposals are then approved:
- Hampshire County Council passenger transport funding for community transport services would be withdrawn by April 2025
- Hampshire County Council passenger transport funding for supported local bus services would be withdrawn by April 2025
- the extra contribution by the County Council to the Concessionary Travel Scheme would be withdrawn by April 2025, unless it became a legal duty
Throughout the implementation, we would consider how we continue to meet our Transport Act duties whilst supporting the County Council’s legal duty to balance its budget.
What are the potential impacts?
If approved, the proposed changes would mean that all community transport provision that we are not legally obliged to provide would be withdrawn by April 2025.
The withdrawal of our bus service support could lead to a number of bus services being removed by operators as there could be insufficient numbers of passengers travelling for operators to run these services on a commercial basis.
These changes would also mean that, provided there is not a change in the law, holders of a Disabled Person’s Bus Pass would no longer be able to use their pass before 9.30am on weekdays. Companion Passes to allow for free travel for essential companions would no longer be available and bus passes would not be accepted on infrequent services between 9am and 9:30am.
Impacts on Hampshire residents
These reductions are more likely to impact the more rural areas of Hampshire. The vast majority of Hampshire’s supported bus network provides transport for people within rural areas to access towns for employment and essential services. Rural areas are also currently served by community transport services.
The reductions are also more likely to impact older and disabled people – two thirds of all journeys on Hampshire’s supported bus network are undertaken by holders of a concessionary bus pass (whether that be a disabled or older person’s pass), and most journeys undertaken on community transport services serve the needs of older and disabled people.
The reductions may also disproportionately impact those on lower incomes as they are less likely to have access to other forms of transport.
Impacts on people who currently use the service could potentially include:
- reduced mobility and independence, for example where these services are currently being used to access health, shopping and social facilities, or to access employment, education and training
- possible increase in social isolation and loneliness
- poorer mental wellbeing and physical health as well as reduced quality of life as a result of the above
If current users turn to other transport methods there could be some increase in car dependency and traffic volumes.
Impacts on other services
Bus route reductions may have an impact on school transport provision (which the County Council is legally obliged to provide). 15% of all journeys undertaken on services that we subsidise are for educational purposes. This equates to around 250,000 trips per year across the whole supported network. Some of these journeys are made on services which fulfil our legal duty to provide school transport for eligible children, others are journeys that non-eligible children make to access their place of education.
There could also be a potential impact on Adults' Health and Care services as many passenger transport service users are vulnerable adults on lower incomes. These users may need earlier/additional help to remain independent. This support could range from paying the cost of alternative transport so that users can continue to access vital services, to requiring additional home care where passengers lose access to the support network provided by these services and the drivers.
We would review the potential impacts on both the County Council's school transport and Adults' Health and Care services to understand if any reduction in the passenger transport budget could result in a corresponding increase in the cost of providing the statutory aspects of these services.
If services are withdrawn because of the withdrawal of our funding, some residents may seek to use the voluntary transport network. These are schemes where volunteers use their own cars to provide transport to hospital appointments for example. The availability of these services is limited as they depend on volunteers. Most schemes cannot transport passengers who travel with a wheelchair.
There could also be a potential impact on the finances of the voluntary organisations that currently provide our community transport services as they would no longer receive our funding. This might be felt more acutely if impacted by other savings proposals currently under consideration by the County Council, including changes to the Adults' Health and Care services Infrastructure Grants. Potentially some of these voluntary organisations could cease to exist as a result of the proposed reductions in funding.
Some passenger transport services are jointly funded by district, borough, city, town or parish council partners. If these partners withdraw their funding, some of these services could also be withdrawn. Some may retain their funding but this may not be sufficient to keep services operational.
Although only 9% of all bus services in Hampshire are subsidised by the County Council, the reductions in funding received by operators could result in the average cost of non-supported routes increasing as there would be fewer routes to spread overheads across. This could lead to some non-supported routes no longer being viable for operators to run.
What alternatives have been considered?
There are other approaches that we could take that are not proposed at this time. In developing this proposal, we have also considered the following:
Maintain current level of funding
This option is not being proposed because of the scale of the budget pressures faced by the County Council, and the legal requirement to operate within our budget. If we maintained current levels of funding, it would put additional pressure on other statutory or critical services to deliver increased savings. Statutory services are those we are legally required to provide. This may impact levels of service in these areas and our ability to operate within our budget.
Charge for issuing Concessionary Bus Pass
Under the Concessionary Bus Travel Act 2007, travel concession passes are issued free of charge to eligible individuals, so without legislative change, it is currently not possible to charge for the issuing of bus passes.
Charge people to travel with a Concessionary Bus Pass on each journey
When the County Council has consulted on making savings on bus services in the past, one of the most common suggestions from respondents is to charge people with a Concessionary Bus Pass to travel. This would require a national change in law. The County Council has lobbied central Government over this issue in the past but to date, this has not been something central Government has explored.
Withdraw services that are contracted by the County Council but funded through other sources
These would be services funded through central Government funding, contributions from housing developers and other local authorities. Withdrawing these services would not contribute to our savings deficit as the funding comes from other sources.
Increase charges for community transport services to a level that could cover the full costs of providing the services
This is because we would not expect there to be sufficient demand to make the service viable at prices required to cover costs.