THE Labour politicians behind the £40million Pennine Reach scheme have called for council to be given back powers to regulate bus services to combat rapidly dropping passenger numbers.

Blackburn with Darwen transport boss Phil Riley and his former Lancashire County Council counterpart John Fillis said this was the only way to get people out of their cars and on to public transport.

Their intervention follows the Lancashire Telegraph revealing that bus journeys in the borough has dropped sharply from 4.9million in 2009/10 to 3.8million in 2016/17.

Passenger miles in the Lancashire County Council area have dropped from 61.3m to 45.5m in the same period.

The Pennine Reach scheme to speed buses between Blackburn, Darwen and Hyndburn, largely completed last year, has seen a six per cent increase in passenger numbers.

Cllr Riley said: “Bus ridership on the Pennine Reach route has increased since its completion which means it is declining elsewhere.

“It has dropped ever since the deregulation of buses in the 1980s. The only place where it has increased is London where the buses are still regulated.

"If we are to get people back on the buses and out of their cars, councils should be given back powers to regulate bus routes, fares and frequency."

Cllr Fillis said: "I would strongly support re-regulation of buses so there can be and integrated public transport system and a one ticket solution to all bus and rail travel as in London with the Oyster Card."

A Blackburn Bus Company spokesman said that since major investment in new buses in 2016/2017 it had seen a six per cent increase in passenger numbers, adding that cuts in subsidies for uneconomic services had contributed to the fall in passenger miles.

He added: “There have been a number of other bus companies in the area that have ceased operations in recent years."