THOUSANDS of Hampshire bus passengers may soon face a ten per cent hike in fares and cuts in services.

Bus firms are warning that charges will be forced up and routes slashed if a vital Government grant is withdrawn.

It could also mean job losses among drivers and other staff.

Ministers are reviewing the Bus Services Operator Grant (BSOG) as part of plans to reduce the Department for Transport’s (DFT) budget by up to 40 per cent.

Karen Baxter, of First UK Bus Group, said: “If the Government did decide to cut this grant, it would be bad news for passengers, and lots of work is going on to try and convince the Government it is not a good idea.

“It will mean fares will have to go up, which people don’t want, and some vital routes may go.

“A service that takes people from a town to the hospital via the doctor’s surgery may not be heavily used but it is still important, but these may be the ones companies will have to look at.”

Alex Carter, boss of rivals Bluestar, said: “This would be disastrous for passengers.

Fares would go up way above inflation and it would have s e r i o u s c o n s e - q u e n c e s for those in rural areas who get an irregular service now but may well find it is cut if this funding is withdrawn.

“If we have less routes it means we will need less people to run them, and this will have an impact on jobs.”

He added that fares could go up by as much as ten per cent with services being scrapped.

One Hampshire MP has pledged to fight for rural bus services.

Winchester and Chandler’s Ford MP Steve Brine said: “I will most certainly be speaking with ministers about bus subsidies.

I am very aware many of the people I represent rely on services, especially in the towns and villages outside of the city.

“We are pledged to keep the free bus pass for pensioners but that will be useless without viable services.

“The coalition Government is, however, battling a record deficit which means any spending protected in one area has to come from somewhere else.”

According to the DfT, operators registered in Southampton currently receive £3.22m a year, those based in Hampshire £284,000 and those on the Isle of Wight £64,300.

Other operators serving the region, but based outside such as Wilts and Dorset, would also suffer from any grant cuts.

The BSOG, which is worth £454m nationally, is paid to operators as a rebate, equivalent to roughly 80 per cent of the fuel duty costs for unprofitable but well used services.

A parliamentary motion signed by a dozen MPs notes that, on the Government’s own calculations, withdrawing its support for bus services would lead to “substantial fare increases, service reductions and job losses”.

Transport Minister Norman Baker has admitted in a parliamentary answer that the grants have brought fares down by 6.5 per cent and increased services by more than seven per cent.

Mr Baker said: “We are in favour of more people using buses, but the bus industry has to understand that we are looking at every budget line because there is a spending review under way.”