Bus services in Great Yarmouth have seen a staggering decline over the past 15 years - with trips per hour plummeting by more than two-thirds.

Researchers from the University of Leeds, on behalf of environmental group Friends of the Earth, analysed every bus timetable in every neighbourhood across England and Wales since 2008. 

The figures show that since that year, bus trips per hour in Great Yarmouth borough have fallen by 68pc.

Friends of the Earth say their research shows there has been "a silent war on bus users for over a decade".

A local transport boss has questioned the figures, however, and said they fail to give the full picture.

The decrease seen in Great Yarmouth was steeper than in any other local authority area in Norfolk.

It compared to falls of almost 50pc in Breckland, almost 41pc in Broadland, 55pc in King's Lynn and West Norfolk, 40pc in Norwich and 44pc in South Norfolk.

Only North Norfolk saw an increase, with 6.3pc more bus trips per hour since 2008.

On average, across England and Wales, urban bus services have dropped by 48pc and rural buses by 52pc over the past 16 years. 

READ MORE: Over £5m to be spent on improving Great Yarmouth bus services

Piers Marlow, managing director of First Bus East of England, has disputed the findings of the research.

He said: “Generally speaking, counting the number of routes in a specific area doesn’t give a full picture of bus usage, or how the networks have changed over time."

Since 2006, there have been numerous changes to Norfolk County Council's local bus budget that have greatly reduced their ability to fund marginal and socially necessary services, he said.

"We have seen other bus operators disappear from the area entirely, all of which would impact these figures," Mr Marlow added.

Great Yarmouth Mercury: First East of England managing director Piers Marlow.First East of England managing director Piers Marlow. (Image: Denise Bradley)

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Mike Childs, head of science, policy and research at Friends of the Earth, said: “There has been a silent war on bus users for over a decade.

"This is not only disproportionately impacting those living on low incomes, people of colour and disabled people who are less likely to own a car, but also people who have had to give up their car as they’ve got older or due to poor health." 

Mr Marlow said that First Bus data shows that the number of journeys has declined over time, but much of that can be explained by recent frequency reductions owing to Covid, where passenger demand reduced dramatically.

“Since then, we have been gradually restoring services and introducing new ones with the assistance of funding from Norfolk County Council's Bus Service Improvement Plan (BSIP) allocation," he said.

Great Yarmouth Mercury: A bus stop at Market Gates in Great Yarmouth.A bus stop at Market Gates in Great Yarmouth. (Image: Newsquest)

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“For this reason, counting routes doesn’t give a full picture of bus usage, looking at mileage is a better comparison."

He said the company's initial calculations suggest that since 2008, the mileage they operate in Great Yarmouth has reduced by approximately 20pc.

"However, we are encouraged by the recent increase in passenger numbers, following initiatives such as HM Government’s £2 fare cap scheme, which has recently been reduced further in the town to £1.50," he said.

A spokesperson for Norfolk County Council said that in March 2022 the county received almost £50 million from the DfT for a Bus Service Improvement Plan.

Approximately £12 million of this funding has been allocated to provide new or expanded bus routes and increase service frequencies on key routes, including more evening and weekend services, they said.

The spokesperson said Great Yarmouth has "benefitted from a number of bus service improvements in recent months, with further service enhancements planned later this year".

In July 2023, the council funded a 30-minute evening frequency on service 8, which provides links to the James Paget Hospital.

They also added journeys on service 7 (Norwich to Great Yarmouth via Acle, Filby Fleggburgh and Caister) including on Saturdays.

In addition, new interchange bus stops are currently under construction at the Rail Station, providing direct service to the town centre, as well as onward journeys from Market Gates bus station or direct to Norwich.

The Friends of the Earth research showed that while London has had an almost constant level of bus provision since 2008, many other parts of the country have seen declines of more than two-thirds.

Unlike the rest of the UK, London bus services were not deregulated in the 1980s.

Instead they remained a public service controlled by local government body Transport for London, which sets routes, timetables and fares.