Bus service funding supports tourism businesses and communities

Westmorland and Furness Council bus stop sign

Hospitality and tourism businesses are being supported by new Westmorland and Furness Council-funded bus services helping staff get to work in the Lakes.

In total, nine bus routes across Westmorland and Furness have been boosted by nearly £600,000 of funding provided by the council this year to connect communities and provide better access to employment.

Two of those routes – the number 6 service between Barrow and Windermere and the X4/5 service that runs between Keswick and Penrith – have seen the frequency of services increased at times designed to help staff get to and from work in hotels, restaurants and tourism businesses in some of the most popular parts of the Lake District.

The £178,885 funding from the Supported Bus Services Grant was allocated to these two services in response to concerns raised by hospitality and tourism businesses, many still feeling the continued effects of the Covid pandemic, about labour shortages and difficulties recruiting staff.

Cumbria Tourism’s latest Business Performance Survey shows 81% of tourism businesses say they are struggling to recruit and around half describe public transport issues creating ‘significant problems’.

Westmorland and Furness Council worked with Cumbria Tourism, hospitality businesses, the Department for Work & Pensions and bus operator Stagecoach to look at ways to improve services used by staff to travel to and from work, particularly on late evening and Sunday journeys.

The result was the funding for the Stagecoach-operated number 6 and the X4/5 services. On the number 6 route, early morning services have now been extended to operate on Sundays and a new late evening journey has been introduced seven days a week, while  the X4/5 has seen a doubling of the frequency of the Monday to Saturday service between Keswick and Penrith to every 30 minutes.

Gill Haigh, Managing Director of Cumbria Tourism, said: “Last month partners, including Cumbria Tourism and Westmorland and Furness Council, launched a shared Destination Management Plan for Cumbria which sets out a public and private sector approach to ensuring a successful visitor economy supporting economic growth, the natural environment and delivering benefits for our communities.

“The funding made available to support the increased frequency of the services and extended timetables is a prime example of delivering against the plan objectives and we are working closely with businesses to raise their awareness and, in turn, help remove some of the staff transport challenges.

“We are also working closely with Westmorland and Furness Council to secure further business feedback to inform further ways in which the funding can support worker transport.”

Communities are also better connected thanks to £412,130 of Bus Service Improvement Plan Plus (BSIP+) funding, which has also been allocated to support seven other bus routes across Westmorland and Furness.

The funding has allowed the council to intervene in the short-term to restore or replace some services that had recently been withdrawn or reduced, in areas where it was identified there was a clear need for communities to be better connected.

The intention is to try to rebuild passenger numbers to pre-pandemic levels and to make the routes sustainable in the longer term.

The seven routes supported by the BSIP+ funding are:

•    Service 40 Kendal Town operated by Stagecoach: Sunday route retained
•    Service 532 Cartmel – Allithwaite – Grange-over-Sands operated by Blueworks: New off peak services on Monday, Wednesday and Friday to complement Kirkby Lonsdale Coaches’ service 530 to Kendal
•    Service 597 Windermere Town operated by Lakeland Commercials: Friday service restored to complement locally-funded services on Tuesdays and Thursdays
•    Service 680A Alston – Brampton – Carlisle operated by Telford Coaches: Previously withdrawn route restored
•    Service 104 Penrith – Plumpton – Carlisle operated by Stagecoach: Half-hourly service restored providing a more direct route to Carlisle
•    Service 552 Arnside – Milnthorpe – Natland – Kendal operated by Kirkby Lonsdale Coaches: Upgraded the three day service to six days
•    Service 563 Penrith – Appleby – Kirkby Stephen – Sedbergh – Kendal operated by Stagecoach: Restored the Monday to Friday service between Sedbergh and Kendal with increased services offered from Kirkby Stephen to Penrith and Kendal.

Angela Jones, Director of Thriving Places at Westmorland and Furness Council, said: "Supporting these bus routes across our area is an important part of improving public transport links for our residents, many of who rely on buses to access key services and employment.

“We aim to build on the fantastic work that has already been delivered by working together with communities in the coming months to understand their needs and how to best allocate a further £1.7 million of funding to enhance even more services by the end of 2024.

“Our latest Bus Service Improvement Consultation offers the opportunity help us shape spending plans so we can use this significant sum to create a network of well-supported bus routes. Whether you currently use bus transport or you aspire to, we encourage all to take part so we can support the right services for our residents and visitors, and get more people choosing the bus as their preferred way to travel.”

Communities are now being invited to have their say on how a second round of BSIP+ funding should be used to support even more bus service improvements.

Launched on 19 March 2024, the latest consultation has already received over 1,400 responses.

Those who wish to take part can by completing the online BSIP+ Funding Consultation or by visiting any Westmorland and Furness Library and requesting a paper copy.

Drop-in sessions have also been arranged at various locations across the area up until the end of April, providing an opportunity to engage directly with the Sustainable Transport Team and share your views.

More details about the remaining drop-in sessions and a list of routes under consideration can be found on the council’s website.

For those that are unable to attend any of the drop-in sessions, an online event has been arranged on Wednesday 24 April from 6pm to 7pm. To receive a link to join, please email media@westmorlandandfurness.gov.uk

For more information about how you can shape the future of bus services across Westmorland and Furness visit the website consultation page