New research has shown the decline in bus services in Cumbria over the past 15 years.

Conducted by environmental charity Friends of the Earth and the University of Leeds, the data showed consistent bus provision in London but declines in other areas of England and Wales.

Cuts in bus services are ‘likely to disproportionately impact those living on low incomes, people of colour and disabled people because they are less likely to own a car, as well as people who have had to give up their car due to their age or health’, according to Friends of the Earth.

They said buses in London, unlike everywhere else, have remained a public service and weren’t deregulated in the 80s.

Their data reports a 45 per cent decrease in the number of trips per hour from 2008 to 2023 in the Northwest.

The worst affected area was the East Midlands, with a 60 per cent decrease, followed by Wales, with 57 per cent.

The average trips per hour in Cumbria in 2006/08 was 150, in 2010 it was 126, and in 2023 it was 76, according to the figures, meaning a 71 per cent decrease.

“The data shows strong geographic disparities.

“The overall picture is that London has an established, reliable and frequent bus service throughout the week (including evening and night services).

“Such a service level rarely requires pre-journey timetable checking or journey planning.

“For most parts of the capital, buses can be expected to turn up within a short period of time throughout the week,” a Friends of the Earth spokesperson said.

They added: “Outside of London however, weekday evening services (6pm-10pm) are often only at one-third or less of the weekday morning peak frequency.

“For those needing to travel outside of peak times, there’s a significant drop-off in the frequency and reliability of services.

“This particularly impacts shift workers without a car, for example, those working in the NHS.

“It also impacts those without a car wanting to access cultural services such as restaurants and cinemas in the evenings.

“A poor bus service has the greatest effect on the day-to-day travel experience of those without access to a car.

“Government data identifies that 33 per cent of black people have no access to a car or van,  compared with 16 per cent of white people 17 per cent of Asian people.

“This data also shows disabled adults are more likely than non-disabled adults to live in households without access to a car, with 28 per cent of disabled adults being in this position compared with 15 per cent of non-disabled adults.”

However the figures’ relevance could be explained easily by London’s higher proportion of people of colour living there than other areas, and public transport provision in the area being good – meaning they don’t own a car.

In January this year, the Labour candidates for Carlisle, Penrith and Solway, and Whitehaven and Workington have come together to ‘fight for funding’ to improve local bus services.

“The reality is under the Tories bus services have been decimated across the country and the subsidies that local authorities used to receive to subsidise vital connections have been slashed by millions,” said Carlisle Labour candidate, Julie Minns.

“It's less than two years since the Government refused to fund Cumbria's Bus Service Improvement Plan, a plan that would have extended child fare discounts from under 16s to under 21s, offered season ticket deals to low paid workers, and offered evening services on key tourist routes in the main summer season.”

The number of miles covered by bus services in Cumbria has fallen by a fifth over the last decade according to the latest figures.

Department for Education figures show bus companies in Cumbria provided 8.2 million miles of services in the year to March – up from 7.8 million the year before but In 2012-13, 10.4 million miles were provided, meaning bus coverage has been cut by 21 per cent over the last decade.

Neil Hudson, MP for Penrith and The Border, the most rural in England, said since his election in 2019, improving public transport has been a key issue for him.

He cited work with volunteer groups like the Border Rambler and Fellrunner in his constituency, adding the services are ‘vital’, but which ‘cannot be relied on alone to provide sustainable and widespread transport access which falls under the responsibility of local government’.

He said in 2014, the then Cumbria County Council decided to refuse central government subsidy, resulting in reduced bus services.

When it was replaced with Cumberland Council in 2023, he said he wrote to it urging better utilisation of bus finding, as well as the central government’s rural mobility fund of £1.5million which was allocated in 2021, he said.

“Following the cancellation of HS2, the government reallocated the money with £148,747,000 for Cumberland and £128,844,000 for Westmorland and Furness as part of the Conservative government's long-term plan to level up transport.

“As well as this, the HS2 funding has gone towards retaining the £2 bus fare cap until the end of December 2024.

“The continuation of the bus fare cap and money going into supporting public transport demands from central government need to be used by the councils to benefit residents as well as visitors to support the local economy.

“Further funding for Cumbria has also been awarded through the Bus Services Improvement Plan 2024-25 fund with £464,743 allocated to Cumberland Council and £412,130 to Westmorland and Furness Council, as part of the £80million, of which there have been three rounds – building on the £80million invested in 2023-24 and £1billion invested in 2022.

“The money is there and the demand is there; the councils need to utilise these funds to not only improve the services that are currently running but to expand and reestablish routes that have sadly been removed,” Dr Hudson added.

Cumberland Council said there ‘has not been’ funding for buses since 2014 and did not comment further.

However, in January this year, Cumberland Council’s executive member for sustainable, resilient and connected places, Denise Rollo, criticised the government’s ‘short-term’ planning for regional bus services.

“Whilst we welcome the award of BSIP Plus funding, we must also acknowledge that the government awarded nothing to Cumbria under the first phase of the BSIP Bus Back Better funding allocations.

“This Government persists with a short-term competitive approach to funding essential public services which is not fit for purpose.

“The people of Cumberland need public transport they can rely on, not a bus route that springs up and runs for six to 12 months until the subsidy dries up,” she said.

A spokesperson for Stagecoach, which provides most of Cumbria’s bus services, said the Friends’ figures are ‘misleading’ and do not ‘represent the true picture of bus service levels within our county’, pointing to Department for Transport figures which they said show the ‘overall number of bus miles operated in Cumbria remains stable’.