The number of passengers using buses in Lancashire fell by 5% in 2015/16 compared to the previous year according to statistics released by the Department of Transport. There were 2.5 million fewer journeys made by bus in the administrative county, which excludes Blackburn and Blackpool as well as those areas administered separately since 1974, with the total falling to 47.6 million per annum.
The drop was significantly greater than in each of the two previous years, when the reduction was around 3% per annum. Since 2009/10 the county has lost a whopping 22% of its bus passengers with only one authority in the North West region reporting a steeper decline.
In the North West as a whole the reduction was just under 3% for the year and 11% since 2009/10 meaning that Lancashire's loss of passengers is twice the regional average. Only Warrington in the North West has done worse, losing almost 13% passengers in the year and over a third of all passengers since 2009/10
For England as a whole bus passenger journeys have fallen only 2.5% due to the inclusion of London in the figures, where a huge financial investment in new buses, extra services, modern payment systems such as Oyster and contactless bank cards, as well as the sheer difficulty in using cars in the city, had led to steady growth until 2014/15, although even here the last year has seen a decline.
The Department's report doesn't attempt to explain the figures but the years since 2009/10 (and long before) have seen steady above-inflation increases in bus fares and reductions in services, with rural services being particularly badly affected as councils have sought to reduce or even eliminate funding for non-commercial services. A further factor has been the falling price of motoring, particularly fuel, which despite very recent increases has been very cheap for the last few years with oil prices falling and government reluctance to increase fuel duty. None of these, however, would seem to explain why Lancashire has done so much worse than the rest of the region or England as a whole.
As for the future, at least one major operator, Stagecoach, has frozen its fares for the current financial year and has introduced better-value fares for young people, which should encourage extra journeys. However the effect of this could well be overturned by the withdrawal of many bus services no longer paid for by the County Council following the cuts in April this year. The decline is therefore likely to continue.
The Department for Transport's report is available via this link (see table BUS0109 Passenger journeys by local authority area England)