Neath Port Talbot Council secures vital bus services despite funding cuts

In total, Neath Port Talbot council has awarded much needed bus service contracts worth £3,086,883 per year with this being achieved despite a drop in Welsh Government funding.

The reinstated Neath Port Talbot bus network include:

  • Service X6 (Morning) Ystradgynlais to Swansea Bus Station
  • Service 256 (Morning) Neath Victoria Gardens to Pontardawe
  • Service 256 (Evening) Neath Victoria Gardens to Pontardawe
  • Service 38 (Sunday) Swansea Bus Station to Neath Victoria Gardens
  • Service 81 (Hourly) Port Talbot Bus Station to Brynbryddan
  • Service 82 (Hourly) Port Talbot Bus Station to Sandfields Estate (Golden Avenue)

The successful outcome of the council’s tendering exercise with bus companies comes at a time of turmoil in the bus industry as, after Covid-19, many travelling members of the public have not returned with passenger numbers down 50% down on pre-Covid levels throughout Wales.

Local Bus Services have been supported financially by the Welsh Government since the pandemic via the Bus Emergency Scheme and more recently the Bus Transition Fund. Many services became unviable leading to communities being socially cut off and people finding it difficult to access work, school or health opportunities.

Welsh Government funding for local bus services in Wales’s South West Region (including Neath Port Talbot) was £10.06m for the forthcoming financial year (2024/25) – this represents a cut of £733,700 from the £10.8M allocated in 2023/24.

The successful tendering process just completed was carried out by Neath Port Talbot Council’s Passenger Transport Unit via its dynamic purchasing system.

The bus industry however continues to face severe difficulties due to falling demand and rising costs.

In an update to councillors, a Neath Port Talbot Council officers’ report said: “Bus services that were previously commercially viable are no longer viable to the bus operators but are socially and economically necessary for many passengers who don’t have access to a car.

“Further, the Bus Transition Fund will cease on 31st March 2024 to be replaced by an alternative grant to support bus services from April 2024 – namely the Bus Network Grant (BNG). The intention thereafter is that all the local bus services which operate in Wales shall either be operated as a commercial service or operated under a new Supported Services Contract by local councils. “

Going forward a new ‘franchising’ model will be established in Wales run by local councils, Transport for Wales, and Welsh Government as part of the Bus Bill. Under these arrangements local authorities will be grouped together into several franchised areas.

The report added that virtually every local authority in Wales (including neighbouring authorities) would have to tender for services at the same time within a shrinking marketplace with some contracts facing the possibility of not being covered.