Bus operators in West Yorkshire could cancel more 'socially necessary' services, experts warn

Uncertainty around bus funding could lead to yet more "socially necessary" services being withdrawn by private operators, forcing taxpayers to once again pick up the bill.

By Richard Beecham
Friday, 1st April 2022, 4:45 am

It follows the Arriva Bus's withdrawal of services over the past few months due to cost pressures and a slower-than-hoped recovery of post-Covid bus passenger numbers. This led to two services being paid for by the West Yorkshire Combined Authority (WYCA), a public body which looks after transport and infrastructure projects in the region, at an extra cost of £25,000 a month.

Bus use in West Yorkshire is currently at around 82 per cent of the equivalent periods in 2019, meaning there is a funding gap for bus operators. This has been mainly plugged with Government-funded subsidies, yet it is still unclear whether these will continue beyond October.

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Bus users could be waiting longer for a ride, a report has warned.

"The combined authority will be under pressure to intervene to secure service provision. Whilst there may be some flexibility to fund this from underspending on concessions, any significant demands in this regard could become a pressure on the combined authority’s reserves."

Buses in West Yorkshire are currently subsidised by the taxpayer to the tune of £19m for the "provision of socially necessary bus services, school buses and AccessBus", as well as £55m towards concessionary fares, such as free bus travel for older and disabled people and reduced fares for under 19s.

The report went on to highlight Arriva Yorkshire creating "several situations where communities' access to bus services have been threatened".

In October 2021, WYCA stepped in to fund the continuation of the 205 (Dewsbury- Morley – Pudsey) service before, at the end of February, Arriva also withdrew its service 117 (Ossett to Leeds) service, together with links between Knottingley and Castleford and evening services in southeast Wakefield.

It added: "The Combined Authority has made arrangements with other operators to maintain these links pending a longer-term review. The current cost to the combined authority of these interventions is around £25,000 per month."

The paper is set to be discussed by WYCA's finance, resources and corporate committee on Tuesday, April 5.