Sioned Williams, Plaid Cymru Member of Senedd for South Wales West has voiced her serious concerns over the uncertain future of the Bus Emergency Scheme (BES) and the impact that would have on residents of Neath Port Talbot and communities throughout the South Wales West region.
The scheme was one of the measures put in place by the Welsh Government to safeguard bus service operators through the pandemic. It was expected that as passenger numbers recovered to pre-pandemic levels and that the scheme would no longer be needed. Passenger numbers have not returned to previous levels, leaving bus operators reliant on the scheme to maintain services.
The scheme was expected to come to an end in March, but the Deputy Minister for Climate Change recently announced an extension but only for three months.
Sioned Williams said:
“While I am pleased that Welsh Government has announced an extension to the Bus Emergency Scheme, I have serious concerns about the impact this catastrophic cut in support will have on bus services in Neath Port Talbot and across the South Wales West region.
“I have recently received correspondence from local authorities, bus companies and public transport users who share my concerns and are demanding that the Welsh Government takes immediate action to safeguard these vital networks. There are warnings that this withdrawal of support could decimate services.
“Buses are essential services. They are essential for people getting to and from work, leisure and other public services. They are an essential part of our ambitions for reducing carbon emissions, tackling loneliness and giving more people access to jobs and opportunities. Building a comprehensive, sustainable network of frequent, reliable and affordable buses requires a plan and proper funding in place. The Welsh Government is failing to deliver either.”
During First Minister’s Questions today, the leader of Plaid Cymru Adam Price MS quizzed the Welsh Government over these potential cuts, where he quoted the Chief Executive of NPT Council, Karen Jones who said in response to a letter from Sioned Williams, that “it is perverse that Welsh Government are striving to deliver sustainable travel with the public encouraged to rely less on private transport yet funding decisions, such as proposed here, will force more people to travel by car, compromising the policy objective”.
Responding to the reply received from the Welsh Government Sioned Williams said:
“In her response to Plaid Cymru’s question to the Welsh Government, Lesley Griffiths said that the funding had been extended for three months in order to give the Deputy Minister for Climate Change, Lee Waters, ‘some breathing space’. That may well be the case, but bus users in my region and across the country certainly won’t be enjoying this so-called ‘breathing space’; they are the ones who are having to hold their breath, dreading what might happen after three months, dreading the possibility that they might lose their job or their ability to see loved ones. This is simply unacceptable.”
And in a question to the Deputy Minister for Climate Change, Lee Waters, Sioned Williams asked whether the Minister could provide assurances to the people of Neath Port Talbot that their bus services will remain in place. However, the Welsh Government did not provide this assurance in their reply to Sioned Williams. Watch the exchange below: