Dozens of bus routes in West Yorkshire could be under threat as the Government removes millions of pounds of support in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Bus Recovery Grant, which sees bus operators receive around £1.2 million per month to make up for reduced passenger numbers, is to end in October.
The West Yorkshire Combined Authority, which supports around 22% of the current bus network, fears operators could axe unprofitable services without continued Government cash.
A report to the authority says that up to 62 routes could be affected and 11% of the current network would be financially unviable if Government funding to operators was withdrawn.
The number of people using buses is still only at 70%-80% of pre-Covid 2019 levels. The Combined Authority say that’s because older people and those with disabilities who have concessionary bus passes aren’t travelling as much. The cost-of-living crisis and the impact of industrial action have also had an impact on passenger numbers.
The issue will be discussed at a meeting of the West Yorkshire Combined Authority Transport Committee on Friday.
Ahead of the meeting Mayor of West Yorkshire Tracy Brabin said she wanted Government funding to continue but also urged bus operators not to make a knee-jerk reaction.
She said: “I’ve been pressing Government ministers and will continue to make the case for further funding for bus operators beyond October.
“I also hope the bus companies will understand this is a transition period and that they will need to take some of the financial strain.
“We cannot create a truly transformational bus network if we only stick to those routes that make the most money, there is a balance to be struck.
“The people of West Yorkshire deserve a service that serves all our communities rather than only running the routes that make substantial profits.
“We and government supported the bus companies throughout Covid. I hope they will now step up and stay the course with us to deliver our ambitious programme of investment in our region’s bus network.”
Drivers with Arriva Yorkshire, which operates services in parts of Huddersfield and North Kirklees, have been on strike since June 6 with no end in sight to the dispute.
In April Arriva cut the frequency of some services in the Huddersfield, Wakefield, Ossett, Dewsbury, Mirfield, Batley, Thornhill, Heckmondwike and Cleckheaton areas, stopping some Saturday services altogether. The move was said to be temporary and due to a national shortage of drivers.
Clr Susan Hinchcliffe, chair of the West Yorkshire Combined Authority Transport Committee and leader of Bradford Council, said: “Sustaining economic recovery is going to need all our efforts and resources, both at regional and national level. High-quality public transport is essential for our West Yorkshire economy.
“We’re doing our part by investing in infrastructure, new ticket types and new buses – now we need government to continue their Covid support to the bus operators, and for the operators to work with us to get people back onto our buses.
“But Government needs to play its part as well in supporting bus and rail companies and services, to keep our post-pandemic economic growth going. With this latest Government cut over 10% of our network is at risk, including evening and Sunday services.”