The Department for Transport has announced that bus operators across England will benefit from up to £130 million of further support.
Grant funding for commercial routes struggling to recover after the Government-imposed lockdowns had been expected to end in October.
But last week the government announced further funding to cover six months from October this year to March 2023, which will be provided directly to bus operators rather than councils.
Shortly before the announcement, the leader of the council, Cllr Carl Les, and executive member for highways and transport, Cllr Keane Duncan, wrote to transport secretary Grant Shapps to stress the effects on the county’s services should funding introduced to support bus networks during the Covid-19 pandemic be removed.
Cllr Duncan said:
This additional funding is vital and very good news for many county bus routes.
Bus services are a lifeline to many across North Yorkshire, particularly those in the most rural areas, so we are pleased the Government has responded positively to our call for action.
We stressed the significant crisis many of our routes are facing, so we’re pleased to see the government respond with this extra support.
This funding will only delay problems until March, however, unless more passengers return to using services.
The council has good links with bus operators and we will continue to work closely with them to support services over coming months.
In their letter, the councillors said the funding had been vital to maintaining the county’s bus services following the coronavirus crisis.
They warned of a “significant crisis” with up to a third of North Yorkshire’s commercial bus network likely to be withdrawn or significantly reduced by the end of the financial year were funding to be withdrawn at the end of October, as originally planned.
There was a particular concern for less well-used rural routes, which represent much of North Yorkshire’s bus network. These services are often used by older travellers and this group have proved to more cautious about returning to bus travel.
They asked the Government to acknowledge the situation and look again at how local bus services could be supported at this critical stage.
Passenger numbers in North Yorkshire have recovered, but are not back to pre-pandemic levels, having broadly returned to about 80 per cent.
North Yorkshire County Council received £2.55m up to October 2022 under the Covid-19 Bus Services Support Grant and Bus Recovery Grant, which were established to allow time for passengers to return and regain confidence after lockdown restrictions were imposed to contain the spread of coronavirus.
The county council also supports bus services that aren’t commercially viable at a cost of £1.6m per year, including community led projects such as Dial a Ride and community minibus schemes that serve many of our more remote rural areas.
The council has investigated innovative alternatives to traditional bus services, and has launched the successful Yorbus project. This involves an on-demand bus service covering a pilot area of Ripon, Masham, Bedale and the surrounding villages. Passengers can book seats when they are ready to travel via the YorBus app.