Government set to hand over £70 to keep bus fares down and improve services in West Yorkshire

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The Government is ready to hand over almost £70m of funding that has been promised to lower fares and improve bus services in West Yorkshire.

The money was promised in April and will be used to support the region’s Bus Service Improvement Plan.

West Yorkshire Mayor Tracy Brabin has already decided more than half the funding, £37m, should be used to subsidise bus fares and the rest will be spent on upgrading the bus network, to make services more frequent and reliable.

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She introduced a cap in September, which means passengers now pay no more than £2 for a single journey and they can make an unlimited number of journeys for £4.50 a day by buying a DaySaver ticket on the MCard App.

An Arriva bus leaves Dewsbury Bus StationAn Arriva bus leaves Dewsbury Bus Station
An Arriva bus leaves Dewsbury Bus Station

West Yorkshire Combined Authority has handed operators £3m in subsidies to ensure the cap remains in place for three months and it then plans to use the Government funding to ensure the cap can continue.

The organisation, which is run by political leaders in West Yorkshire, said the money was due to arrive “imminently”, as it had just reached an agreement with bus operators about how they will work to deliver the service. But WYCA has also stated that if the funding does not arrive it “would need to consider whether to terminate or continue” the fare cap.

Analysis shows the number of adult passengers rose by around 10 per cent when the cap was introduced in September.

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It comes after Ms Brabin urged cash-strapped bus companies to “hold their nerve” and wait until the £70m investment in the network brings a long-awaited increase in passenger numbers.

Passengers wait at a bus stop on Huddersfield Road, Brighouse.Passengers wait at a bus stop on Huddersfield Road, Brighouse.
Passengers wait at a bus stop on Huddersfield Road, Brighouse.

Operators like First West Yorkshire and Arriva Yorkshire saw usage and revenues plummet during the pandemic and they are now also struggling with inflation, rising fuel costs and driver shortages. Recent analysis found bus use in West Yorkshire is 20 per cent lower than the pre-pandemic level and around 11 per cent of the network is not financially viable.

The Government agreed to extend a £2bn package of pandemic support, known as the Bus Recovery Grant, until March to try and prevent operators from cutting services to save money.

However, a total of 20 routes were axed earlier last month, according to the Better Buses for West Yorkshire campaign group.

West Yorkshire’s Bus Service Improvement Plan aims to make sure passengers can catch a bus every 15 minutes or quicker, 95 per cent of services arrive on time by 2025 and communities which have lost bus routes are reconnected.

Mayor of West Yorkshire Tracy Brabin at Wakefield Bus StationMayor of West Yorkshire Tracy Brabin at Wakefield Bus Station
Mayor of West Yorkshire Tracy Brabin at Wakefield Bus Station

The Department for Transport announced in April that almost £1.1bn will be provided to support improvement plans in 31 areas of the country, including West Yorkshire and York.

It said bids in areas that have ambitious plans to “repeat the success” seen in London, where there has been a dramatic increase in bus usage since the late 1990s, were approved but bids that failed to show “sufficient ambition” were rejected.