York residents have been urged to get back on the city’s buses or risk losing them as the council fights to stabilise a “crisis” on the network.
City of York Council has stepped in to prop-up several services which commercial operators have said are no longer viable in recent weeks.
But senior councillors have warned that they cannot provide unlimited subsidies if users don’t return to the bus or Government funding is not extended after March 2023.
Pre-Covid, the bus industry in York was worth £24 million. The council funded around £0.72 million of this through subsidies.
But due to Covid, the industry has shrunk to 80 per cent of pre-Covid levels, with 20 per cent fewer passengers. Driver shortages and fuel costs have only made matters worse.
The council has used an additional £1 million of its bus service improvement plan funding to safeguard the under-threat 13 and 412 services in the short term, as well as for recommissioning the Poppleton Park and Ride Site for Easter next year.
Earlier this month, First York announced that it is planning to withdraw the number 12 / 12A service entirely from January. A procurement exercise will be carried out before March to secure the longer-term future of both services.
The council has now said it will now focus on preserving routes, rather than bus frequencies – and it will not fund current commercial services where a reduction in frequency is an option for the operator.
Executive member for transport Cllr Andy D’Agorne said: “Keeping the bus network even with a reduced frequency, as long as local communities are not significantly negatively affected by the reduction, provides a better basis to build back in the future.”
Director of transport James Gilchrist said: “Rather than saying a bus is every half hour and not being able to deliver it, we think being able to say it’s every 40 minutes and you can rely on it is a better position and more likely to attract people back to the bus.
“The key message is we want people to return to the bus. The more people can get using the bus, the more commercially viable those buses will be.”
Cllr D’Agorne added: “Current action we can take is short term and limited by the funding, serving only as a time limited safeguard for existing local bus routes. Routes affected to-date have all been run commercially by bus operators and not financially supported by the council.”
He added: “We are in a position where if people don’t use the bus services, they could lose them.”