A cocktail of lower passenger numbers, driver shortages, and rising costs mean that the government must further extend emergency bus funding – or we could soon be facing losing bus services on a previously unknown scale, according to the Leader of Rotherham Council.
The number of people thought to be using buses in Rotherham each week is down 30% compared pre-Covid levels, with the number of older people using free bus passes to travel down by 40%.
In March the government averted a cliff edge in bus funding by announcing a “final” round of Bus Recovery Grant, but this expires in October. Earlier this month, South Yorkshire’s council leaders and the Mayor of South Yorkshire agreed to commit an additional £1.9 million of reserves held by the Passenger Transport Authority to top this up and avoid imminent cuts.
But with bus operators needing to plan now for services changes in just three months’ time, the threat to local services is once again looming large.
From next month, early morning, late night and some weekend services in Rotherham are already going to be lost after bus companies declined to tender for the work: 73, 114, 116, 135/135a, 208 and X74.
In April, the government rejected a bid for an additional £474 million that would have helped to transform local bus services with simpler ticketing, a cap of ticket prices, free travel for under 18s and more reliable services.
It is believed that an extra £40 million a year from the government is needed over the medium term to avoid losing any more services – with a further £85 million to improve the offer to the travelling public and help to restore passenger numbers.
Labour Leader of Rotherham Council, and Chair of the South Yorkshire Transport and Environment Board, Cllr Chris Read said;
“We’ve been fighting for months to protect local buses, but we’re quickly getting back to crunch time. Earlier this year, we were able to persuade the government to extend the funding bus companies have needed to maintain services through Covid. We’ve committed a significant proportion of the savings we have between the South Yorkshire councils in order to stave off immediate service reductions. But without a further commitment from the government, or a sudden increase in passenger numbers, later this year we could well be in a position where there are virtually no buses operating on a commercial basis in Rotherham in the evening at all. Every bus left running outside weekday daytimes might only be doing so because it is propped up by council tax payers. If that happens, it will be a dramatic reduction in the services that people rely on.”
“Twelve years of Conservative austerity have left the funding cupboard bare. We made an ambitious bid to government for the money to bring our buses into the twenty first century and they refused to give us a single penny. They told us the country would ‘bus back better’ but they seem to have abandoned our communities again. We’re going to be making the case to government for continuing funding in the strongest possible terms, but we also need people to be back on the buses again – I’m afraid in some cases it is going to be a question of use it or lose it.”
South Yorkshire’s Mayor, Oliver Coppard said;
“We are now facing the immediate threat of the biggest and most damaging cuts for a generation.
“People in Sheffield and Rotherham will feel the brunt of these brutal cuts initially next month when private bus companies withdraw their services on the less profitable routes.
“Within our communities, we rely on these services for getting to work, seeing family, caring for others, and of course getting to and spending money in local businesses. These cuts will strike at the heart of our families, our economy, and our communities. They will also unfairly impact on those with mobility and health issues who rely on these bus services as lifelines.”
“On my first morning as SY Mayor I wrote to the prime minister and challenged him to urgently deliver on his promised to level up our country. I made it clear that investment in our buses is vital for our region to flourish.
“And yet, despite the promises of the government, we’re far from seeing dramatic improvement on public transport, that would take us close to a London style connectivity. We are facing a dramatic cutting of funding, with devastating consequences for our communities.
“That’s why I am now calling on the government to urgently work with me to save the bus network in South Yorkshire.
“To put that into context, it would allow us to save vital bus routes that our communities desperately rely on to get to work, visit family, get to school and college. And it would mean that private bus companies wouldn’t have the power to strip those services from passengers.”
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