Some York bus operators are facing ‘catastrophic losses’ due to huge cost increases and a lack of passengers.
And unless something is done, ‘more and more marginal routes and journeys are likely to face withdrawal’.
That’s the stark warning contained in a new report to City of York Council.
The government’s financial support for buses following Covid has been vital for keeping services going.
But that funding will reduce by at least 30% in the next two years. “As the support is withdrawn the commercial viability of these services is becoming challenging,” a report to the council’s executive states.
First York said the early and late services of numbers 1, 4, 6 and 10/10A were no longer commercially viable. The council has arranged contracts from bus operators to retain these services for a three-month period, subject to agreement from York’s enhanced bus partnership.
York’s bus use in numbers
The number of passengers carried at the moment is around 85% of the pre-Covid figure which means York’s bus services now:
- carry around 40,000 passengers a day
- fulfil around 10% of all journeys in the city, and around 30% of all journeys to the city centre
- cost about £70,000 a day to operate, and
- employ around 500 people.
York has secured £17.4 million through central government’s Bus Service Improvement Plan (BSIP), to pay for infrastructure improvements and service support. It is currently spending about £2.7 million subsidising bus services in the city.
But more challenges lie ahead. Driver costs have increased by 50% since 2021, while passenger numbers are still down, meaning some bus operators are now making “substantial losses” on council contracts.
“The current situation is unsustainable and if left unaddressed is likely to lead to some operators faced with the difficult choice of whether to breach contracts in order to protect their business from catastrophic losses,” the report states.
That means either the council will have to pay more, or some services will be lost.
Growing the network
As Covid funding is phased out “more and more marginal routes and journeys are likely to face withdrawal by commercial operators”.
The report also warns of the March 2025 “cliff edge” when the Covid funding for bus services ends, “beyond which no identifiable funding source exists to keep many of these services operating”.
But it states that the council “plans to stabilise, improve and grow the local bus network in response to the reduced government funding”.
Plans to get more people on the buses include:
- a half-price All York family ticket deal for the summer holidays in July and August 2023
- a four month trial of a £1 flat child and young person fare, starting in September
- ‘tap-on tap-off’ payments installed on all York buses, to make it easier for bus passengers to cap the cost of daily travel
- the introduction of a city centre shuttle bus – a report is due on this soon
- improvements to city centre bus journeys – a study on how to achieve this has been commissioned.
The report will be discussed at a meeting of the executive committee next Thursday (13 July). You can read it here.
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