Fear of yet more ‘devastating’ cuts to North East bus routes as leaders plead for new funding
North East leaders have pleaded with the Government to act now to save bus passengers from being hit with yet more devastating cuts.
Ministers have been warned that they must offer to extend emergency cash support to bus companies in order to stave off another swathe of service reductions. Government grants have propped up struggling public transport providers suffering heavily reduced passenger numbers since the onset of the Covid pandemic.
But while patronage levels on North East buses are still roughly 25% down on pre-Covid times, the Bus Recovery Grant is due to expire at the start of October. There are fears across the North of England that private bus companies will soon announce a raft of new cuts if the funding is discontinued.
Routes across the North East have already seen major cutbacks this year, with Tyne and Wear Metro operator Nexus saying it estimates that roughly 100 fewer buses per day are now running in the area compared to in March. Go North East imposed reduced timetables last month and have confirmed more to come in September, while transport chiefs are known to fear that Arriva and Stagecoach will imminently slash their services too – either by reducing bus frequencies or cancelling some routes entirely.
Gateshead Council leader Martin Gannon said that ongoing support was “desperately” needed to safeguard vital services. He added: “If the government doesn’t rethink the imminent withdrawal of funding, we will not only be facing a cost of living crisis, but a quality of living crisis too.”
Northern mayors, including the North of Tyne’s Jamie Driscoll, have warned that more cuts would have a “devastating” impact on working families and “only add more hardship to those already suffering under this cost of living crisis”.
In a letter sent to Boris Johnson, Nadhim Zahawi, and Grant Shapps, they wrote: “In each of our regions, bus operators have now notified that they intend to withdraw hundreds of bus routes resulting in many communities losing access to any form of public transport. In addition, a large number of routes will lose all services after 7pm in the evening, preventing many shift workers using bus services to travel to and from work. Over half of all bus routes will be affected in some form.
“Without action, the changes to bus provision will have a devastating effect on the communities affected, add to the cost of living crisis and will compromise the aims of the National bus Strategy introduced just last year.”
As well as Mr Driscoll, the letter was signed by West Yorkshire mayor Tracey Brabin, South Yorkshire’s Oliver Coppaird, and Liverpool’s Steve Rotheram.
A Department for Transport spokesperson said:“We have committed to investing £3bn into bus services by 2025, to improve fares, services and infrastructure, and given nearly £2bn since March 2020 to bus operators and local authorities to mitigate the impacts of the pandemic. We continue to listen to the sector and work closely with operators and local transport authorities to support network planning, ensuring all possible steps are taken to protect services.
“To maximise this investment, local authorities and operators need to work together to ensure routes are commercially sustainable and reflect the needs of passengers post-pandemic.”
Article from Chronicle Live.