BUS operators in West Yorkshire are continuing to pay for “invisible passengers”, it has been claimed, as regional decision-makers are set to ask the Government for clarity over funding.
It was claimed at a meeting of the West Yorkshire Combined Authority (WYCA) transport committee, that the organisation was still spending £3m-a-month on concessionary fares, having been told to do so by government earlier in the lockdown.
The money is paid to bus operators, subsidising them for concessionary fares taken from customers, such as vulnerable and elderly people.
Commuters could be left at bus stops as social distancing reduces capacity
However, with the lockdown leading to a vast reduction in bus travel, regional politicians are arguing fewer vulnerable people had been using buses, and that money could be better spent elsewhere.
The chair of WYCA’s transport committee Coun Kim Groves said: “Leaders have continuously tried to liaise with government to try secure additional funding – there is no funding coming forward. We need an announcement on buses before August.
“We are still paying concessionary fares which really have been invisible customers – that is costing us £3 million per month.
“We are at a really critical stage – we have gone from pre-Covid, looking at a national bus strategy, to hardly any communication at all (from government) on funding.
“We are going to have to make difficult decisions on concessionary fares we are currently paying. We are paying for people that are not travelling, straight to the operators.
“I can’t foresee that can continue.”
The government asked local transport authorities to maintain concessionary fare and tendered bus service payments to bus operators at the amounts that were being paid immediately before the emergency.
The authority gets around £6 million a month to help with this, but government has only asked this to continue until August.
Senior WYCA officer Dave Pearson told the meeting that there were “concerns” around the viability of bus services in the region, as the UK continues to emerge from Covid.
He said: “Buses are carrying 20-25 percent of the people they normally carry, they are drawing in a quarter or less of the fares they would usually be generating. The public sector is making up the difference of the running costs, so we need certainty to plan for this this going forward.
“As we move into the next phase of the Covid situation, there are concerns about the viability of bus services – if government funding is reduced, we are going to have have difficult decisions to make around certain bus services.
“We need a cohesive recovery plan so we can rebuild our transport network.”
He warned that, due to predicted financial and service issues, a bus working group should be set up to help get the region’s transport industry back on its feet.
Members agreed to reinstate the Local Bus Working Group to oversees the reinstatement of the bus network and any commissioning of services by the combined authority to support it.