West Yorkshire transport chiefs paying bus operators £2.5m a month in subsidies during pandemic

Regional transport chiefs are paying bus operators £2.5m every month for concessionary journeys that are not being made in order to support West Yorkshire services and keep journeys safe during the Covid-19 pandemic, it has been revealed.
Coun Kim Groves, chair of the West Yorkshire Combined Authority Transport Committee.Coun Kim Groves, chair of the West Yorkshire Combined Authority Transport Committee.
Coun Kim Groves, chair of the West Yorkshire Combined Authority Transport Committee.

West Yorkshire Combined Authority (WYCA) pays bus companies a fee as a subsidy for every concessionary journey that is made.

A concessionary journey is free bus travel granted to some passengers, including pensioners and disabled people.

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WYCA, which is responsible for economic development, transport and planning for devolution, has continued to pay the subsidies for concessionary fare bus journeys that are not being made during the pandemic to ensure that regular bus services can continue safely, with social distancing.

The authority said bus and rail passenger numbers have grown significantly since the full lockdown was lifted.

It said passenger numbers are around half of what they were before lockdown on bus and a third of previous levels on rail.

Public transport was one of the topics covered in the Yorkshire Evening Post's Big Conversation survey of readers.

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One question asked: How comfortable do you personally feel about taking public transport in the current circumstances?

Of the dozens of respondents, 47 per cent said not at all comfortable; 25 per cent said not comfortable; 20 per cent said comfortable, five per cent answered very comfortable and three per cent answered don't know/not sure.

Another question asked how people they rated the quality of provision of public transport and adaption to transport infrastructure since the pandemic started?

Seven per cent of respondents replied very good; 38 per cent said good; 11 per cent said not good; seven per cent said not at all good and 37 per cent said don't know/not sure.

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Coun Kim Groves, chair of the West Yorkshire Combined Authority Transport Committee, said: “We have helped people to use public transport safely through additional cleaning, modifications at our bus stations to help social distancing, maintaining up to date travel information as well as encouraging passengers to wear face coverings, pay by contactless and travel at different times of day.

"We are spending £2.5m a month to pay operators for concessionary fare journeys that are not being made, in addition to our wider financial support for bus services, so that there is the maximum space on services to support social distancing.

"Operators have also taken extensive measures to ensure public transport is safe and to give passengers confidence to return.

“As we continue to support public transport through the pandemic and look to the future we need long-term funding from Government to help continue to build confidence and, along with investment in cycling and walking, avoid a move to greater car use with negative impacts for our environment, public health, congestion in our towns and cities and the economy.

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Buses are an essential part of the West Yorkshire transport system; over 70 per cent of public transport journeys are made by bus and in normal times almost 3 million bus journeys are made each week, connecting communities to work, education and services.

"We are clear that bus funding and governance models need a radical overhaul that delivers value for money, reliability and affordability and gives us much greater influence if we are to create a bus service that is a first-choice travel option for all our communities, encouraging people out of their cars, cutting congestion and improving air quality as we emerge from the pandemic.”

Paul Matthews, Managing Director of First West Yorkshire, said: " I would like to reassure anyone from any age group that using the bus is safe.

“We have seen a gradual increase in passengers as lockdown has been lifted, even allowing for recent changes in local measures, with levels now above 50 per cent of pre-Covid numbers.

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"We have effective social distancing on board so people can sit safely and conduct enhanced daily cleaning of all touch surfaces including use of a long-lasting sanitiser.

"We have led the way in new digital tools to help customers travel with confidence.

"Our app has a live bus map which shows how many seats are available as a bus approaches a stop and the Space Checker on our website enables people to plan their journey up to seven days in advance and indicates how busy a service is likely to be for every hour of the day.

"Continuing to improve public transport infrastructure and connectivity including more bus priority is vitally important to support the economic recovery.

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"The recent reopening of The Headrow as part of the Connecting Leeds programme is a prime example of local authorities and operators working in partnership to deliver better reliability and punctuality.

"We are discussing with Government nationally and locally how we can ensure bus services prosper after Covid.

Steve Hopkinson, regional director for Northern said: “"Northern has more cleaning staff – both on train and at stations – than ever before and they are working around the clock to keep our network clean and reduce the potential for the virus to spread.

“We have teams at 18 locations across our network who clean the trains throughout the day, focussing on touch points, litter and toilets.

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"All our trains that have been in service receive a full clean at the end of the night at the depots and stations to make sure they are ready for our customers the next morning.

“We’re running more trains and carriages during peak hours to give our customers as much space as possible.”

Dozens of YEP readers took part in the Big Conversation survey, which was launched in September and asked people how they thought Leeds had changed during a year like no other.

The snapshot survey of Yorkshire Evening Post readers looked at big issues in Leeds relating to the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown.

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JPI Media titles throughout the country asked questions of readers to find out what has changed since lockdown - and what the new society which emerges from the Covid-19 pandemic should look like to benefit us all.