Fears over bus funding could see services cut and companies disappear

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West Yorkshire Councillors have raised concerns over the future of local bus services, and fear the Covid pandemic could see some routes or even whole companies disappear.

Lockdowns, the need for social distancing, home working and a reluctance to return to public transport has meant bus usage, and income for bus companies, has plummeted since March.

But at a meeting of West Yorkshire Combined Authority’s Transport Committee yesterday, members heard that despite the greatly reduced income to fund bus routes, services still needed to run to help transport key workers.

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Although Government is currently providing emergency grant funding to keep bus services going, this is only scheduled to last until April.

Bus serviceBus service
Bus service

After that that gap between the cost to run West Yorkshire’s buses and their income, including fares and non emergency grants, will be £1.5 million a week.

Referring to this figure, a report to the committee, which is made up of Councillors from the five West Yorkshire Councils, said: “Whilst this will reduce as passenger revenue returns, the speed at which this will occur is unknown at this stage.”

Dave Pearson, Director of Transport, said: “We had to maintain bus services for critical worker journeys.

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“We had a letter from the Government this week saying we need to be prudent and efficient in the services we are deploying. We are currently having conversations with operators on how we do this while still maintaining our network.

“The Government doesn’t want for us to be paying for empty buses. But it is not our intention to take any routes away at this stage of lockdown, but we are keeping things under review.

“We will also need to ensure people are able to go and get their vaccines, people who may need buses, so that is a factor.”

He said the lack of certainty over how long the pandemic would last meant there was much financial uncertainty over the future of bus services.

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The Authority recently sent a letter, signed by local Council leaders, calling for greater Government support for the region’s bus services.

Chair of the Committee Leeds Councillor Kim Groves raised fears that bus operators would struggle to cope due to plummeting income. She said: “We’re facing a funding gap of £1.5 million a week. The risk we may have is that once Covid restrictions are lifted, operators may reduce services at a time we will desperately need them to help support the economy to recover.”

Calderdale Councillor Jane Scullion said: “I am worried about the recovery of our bus services. Buses are a bit more of a Cinderella service it seems than rail services.

“I’m particularly worried about how we get young people to return to bus services.

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“I’ve heard evidence of young people buying cars for around £500 and removing themselves from public transport entirely. How do we get people back to public transport?

“I’m worried there might be a cliff edge, and that some of the smaller bus companies could go bust.

“This is something we really need to push.”

Coun Groves added: “In a lot of the communities we represent there is only 50 per cent car ownership. For those people who don’t have a car, to get employment and stay in employment, buses are essential.”

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