Severe bus driver shortages coupled by the withdrawal of Covid funding by the Conservative Government means local people face more bus cuts.
The majority of bus services in the West of England are run commercially, with the remainder fully or partly subsidised by the West of England Combined Authority, led by Mr Norris. Of the 87 ‘supported’ bus services in the region, it is understood that bus companies will only agree 36% will run past October without any conditions and eleven routes will be cancelled. This is despite the Metro Mayor offering to continue to subside these services.
The region faces several challenges on buses. On top of the shortage of drivers, and the Government’s financial cliff edge funding decision, there are also fewer passengers – around 75 per cent of pre covid numbers – and costs to run the buses are up.
Metro Mayor Dan Norris said:
“I am sorry that people in the West of England will feel these cuts in October, when private bus companies withdraw their services on the less profitable routes. My heart goes out to people who will lose buses which I know are so important for getting to work, seeing family and caring for others.
“I have warned repeatedly there will be bus cuts in the autumn, and now sadly we are seeing these fears realised. We all know the issues – government support ends in October, but passenger numbers are still not back to where they were pre-pandemic, and the inflationary costs of running services is rocketing. And the huge, huge problem is there are not enough bus drivers.
“When it comes to funding, I will always step in to save vital buses where I can, but there isn’t an unlimited pot of cash and even if there was, I can’t magic up drivers.
“Over the next weeks and throughout August I will work with local communities and bus companies large and small to see where we might be able to step in, if other providers might take on different routes, or if we can come up with different innovative solutions.
“There are trade-offs and compromises to make but I know local people will have some great ideas about how to use drivers most effectively, which is why I will be engaging with as many people as possible to make this the least painful it can be.
“While this is a difficult time, I urge everyone to use the buses that are running because every journey you make creates a virtuous circle of more fare income and so better buses. Plus, it’s so very vital for our net zero targets.
“There is also hope on the horizon. The Combined Authority I lead is supporting bus driver recruitment and training and the new money I’ve won for buses will kick in next year. So hang in there!”.
The Bus Service Improvement plan cash award for the West of England was £105 million – the second highest in the country. Anyone considering a career as a bus driver should visit https://www.firstgroupcareers.com/skillsets/busdriver/