The Department for Transport’s Bus Recovery Grant was set up to provide support for bus companies at a time when passenger numbers, and income, plummeted due to the Covid pandemic and lockdown.
This support is due to end on April 5, but bus companies, public transport groups and politicians have argued that with bus use still nowhere near pre-pandemic levels, losing this financial support could lead to bus companies going out of business or needing to cut services.
Government has yet to announce any further support beyond April.
In West Yorkshire the end of support could either lead to services disappearing or millions in taxpayer money being used to prop up routes and services, and the issue has been regularly raised at recent meetings of West Yorkshire Combined Authority.
A newly published report by the Urban Transport Group found that if the funding was not replaced “buses would soon be less frequent and more expensive, and patronage would be substantially lower than pre-Covid levels, potentially up to 30 per cent lower.”
Although many Covid restrictions have been lifted, changes to work patterns, including working from home, have meant commuters that many routes relied on have not returned to pre-pandemic levels.
Tracy Brabin, Mayor of West Yorkshire, said: “I’ve been raising this issue with government for months, and have spoken candidly with Ministers about the bus services in our region that are under threat. It’s very disappointing to see that there is still no decision on whether bus operators will continue to receive financial support from April.
“Fewer people than usual are using buses at the moment, but as they return to their workplaces they’re finding routes cut and frequencies reduced. For those people who rely on our bus network, this is the very opposite of levelling up.
“Some smaller bus companies are also at risk of going out of business while others have said they may have to cut services further if funding cannot be secured from April. The Combined Authority is able to financially support some of these services but there’s a limit to what we can do.
“In West Yorkshire we’ve put in bids for future funding as part of the government’s Bus Back Better programme – but we’re in danger of not having services to support when that funding arrives.
“The government need to hear our concerns and act fast.”
A DfT spokesperson said: “The government has provided an unprecedented £1.7bn in support to over 160 operators to keep services running during the pandemic, and we’re working closely with the sector to understand the potential challenges and mitigations once it ends in April.”
Chris Young, Local Democracy Reporting Service