by Brian O’Flynn

England has lost 22 per cent of its local bus provision since 2011, FactCheck analysis can reveal. And when we account for increases in population, the decline is even greater: 28 per cent.

Our analysis finds that every region of England has been hit, with those outside the South East seeing the sharpest falls.

We’ve drilled down even deeper to reveal the worst affected local authority areas, some of which have lost more than half of their bus provision per head of population since 2011.

North West and West Midlands lost most bus provision

We can reveal that, when accounting for growing populations, the North West, West Midlands and Yorkshire and the Humber have seen the steepest decline in bus provision since 2011 – losing 36 and 38 per cent of their “bus miles per person” in that time.

Five of England’s nine regions have lost a third or more than a third of their per capita bus provision. And even the least affected region – London – is down 13 per cent.

Transport for London (TfL) said that rail improvements had impacted demand for buses in central London, but that they are in the process of expanding services in outer London and expect seven million more scheduled bus kilometres a year across London in the coming financial year compared to 2022/23.

Worst-hit councils have lost more than two thirds of bus provision

Our analysis at the local level shows an even starker picture.

The worst affected councils in England (excluding London boroughs) were Slough, Shropshire, and Rutland, which all lost over two thirds of their bus miles per capita between 2011 and 2023. (We can’t use London in the council-by-council part of the analysis as this data is collected differently.)


And the other councils in the bottom ten all lost more than half their population-adjusted bus provision over the same period.

Councils in this list pointed to rising costs, funding cuts, and falling passenger numbers as reasons for their steep declines.

Rutland Council told us that rising costs with no additional funding had forced it to prioritise services, and that it had even taken some bus services in-house to run them free of charge.

Shropshire Council said it has “stepped in” to save bus services from closure, and that the council now subsidises nearly every bus route in the county. The council said it is currently spending nearly 80 per cent of its budget on social care, which it is legally obliged to provide, and that this can force cuts to other services.

Stoke-on-Trent Council says it’s adding new bus routes and is “committed to improving our local transport network”. The council leader said: “We want to work with the bus companies to introduce additional journeys which run more frequently and operate at the weekends”.

Bath and North East Somerset Council said it wants to see bus decline “reversed” and that it has increased funding for supported services. It said it needs the regional mayor to use bus funding to “ensure services in our area meet the needs of our residents”.

Slough Council said it was seeking clarification from DfT on how the department’s statistics are calculated and would only be able to comment once it had received that information.

Our analysis found only nine council areas outside London where bus provision per head rose between 2011 and 2023. These were: Southend, Buckinghamshire (excluding Milton Keynes), Southampton, Thurrock, North Somerset, West Berkshire, East Sussex, South Gloucestershire, Central Bedfordshire.

How we calculated our figures

The local bus mileage figures are published by the Department for Transport, which describes them as “a measure of bus service provision”. They show the number of miles travelled by buses that are operated by commercial and local authority operators in the geographical area of each local or transport authority.

This is a different measure to the one used last year by Labour, when the party focused on the number of bus routes, which it said had halved since 2011. While that metric can give us a glimpse into some aspects of bus operations, it’s complicated by the fact that routes can be merged together – giving the appearance of a “loss” in bus services, when the actual provision of buses might have stayed the same or even increased. The bus vehicle miles data we’ve used here gets round this problem by telling us about vehicle miles driven regardless of the name of the route.

To reach our population-adjusted findings, we’ve compared bus mileage with population estimates published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) between 2011 and 2022. The ONS has yet to release its mid-year population estimate for 2023, so we have used 2022 figures for the last two years in our analysis. This means our findings are likely to slightly understate the extent of per capita bus loss between 2011 and 2023 as we can reasonably expect that England’s population grew between 2022 and 2023.

Responding to our findings, a DfT spokesperson told us: “Bus usage is still much lower than 2019 levels, but thanks to the Government investment of over £3.5 billion of support since the pandemic, we have prevented reductions to services across the country.

“Thanks to reallocated HS2 funding, we’ve extended the £2 fare cap to encourage people back onto the buses and committed a further £1 billion to improve services across the North and Midlands.”

Additional reporting by Georgina Lee

(Photo by Geoffrey Swaine/Shutterstock)