Operators have been receiving public money since the start of the pandemic, to financially prop up services suffering from a collapse in passenger numbers.
But that cash stream stops in October, leading to fears that some 62 routes deemed unprofitable could be withdrawn. That equates to 11 per cent of the region’s bus network in terms of mileage.
The news could signal more misery for passengers, after several rounds of supposedly “temporary” service cuts by Arriva over the last year, with the Wakefield and Kirklees areas worst affected.
On top of that came strike action from Arriva drivers in the region, which has crippled journeys further over the last fortnight.
West Yorkshire is due to receive £70m for bus “improvements”, but that money is supposed to go towards capping fares, improving technology and making buses greener, rather than simply “plugging gaps” and keeping services alive.
In any case that cash is not due to land until the start of next year, months after the Covid funding expires.
A regional transport meeting on Friday was told West Yorkshire mayor Tracy Brabin has lobbied the government to extend the Covid funding, with passenger numbers still only around three quarters of pre-pandemic levels.
Dave Pearson, the West Yorkshire Combined Authority’s (WYCA) head of transport services, said: “The mayor has written to the Secretary of State this week to ask for a more transitional period on the funding.
“Her reasoning being it would be counter productive to use the (improvement) money to plug the gaps.
“There’s a bit of lag here between the end of Covid-related funding and that start of the improvement process. There’s a bit of a gap between the two.
“That’s going to be a big challenge.”
The leader of Bradford Council, Susan Hinchcliffe, criticised the government’s reluctance to bend on the issue.
Councillor Hinchcliffe told the meeting: “I know the mayor’s just written to the government asking for an extension to the funding.
“However, the government has said quite clearly that there’s no more money coming, which is unhelpful given we’re not back to the levels we were pre-pandemic.”
Bus operators have been urged to “hold their nerve” once the pandemic cash runs out, but with a shortage of drivers still hurting the industry, there’s concern of further pain for passengers.
Mr Pearson added: “Bus demand is picking up a bit in the months since March and April. But it’s still not there in terms of the passengers we were seeing in 2019.
“What we’re saying to bus operators is ‘You need to see through this difficult time’, because we’ve got a proposition coming forward which reduces fares and is more attractive to young people.
“There’s an amount of nerve-holding to be done.
“But it’s quite a complex and difficult environment at the moment for buses, like other public services and businesses with all the financial pressures.”