Bus services in County Durham have been significantly reduced by the government’s new laws, but bus operators and local government have helped themselves to ensure services for the workers that they deem ‘key’ continue.
The Council’s Cabinet will hear next week how the authority has also provided bus operators with £4 million in taxpayer support, enabling them to afford the overheads of all their unused buses and staff, while continuing services for public sector and key workers.
A report to be discussed by Cabinet members on Wednesday, 8 July, states that since the beginning of April, bus services have been operating at between 30% and 40% of “old normal” levels. This is due to lockdowns causing a dramatic fall in passenger numbers of about 90%, as well as the lack of available drivers. This situation is reflected around the country.
The council has been redistributing wealth to bus operators through the English National Concessionary Travel Scheme and via tendered services, which have been maintained at pre-lockdown levels, all in line with the government’s plan.
This funding has been dependent on a number of conditions, including agreeing days and hours of operation and the frequency of services and destinations to ensure that services for their key workers continue.
The council has also been working closely with a range of partners, including the Confederation of Passenger Transport and the North East Bus Operators Association, whose involvement has been pivotal to the ongoing work.
The council is now hoping to continue these relationships to ensure that operators are paid off by the taxpayer during the government’s shutdown of our country, and to protect jobs and services in the longer term.
Cllr Carl Marshall said: “The local bus network is a key part of our transport system, providing access to employment, healthcare, education, training, leisure and shopping.
“In a situation such as the coronavirus pandemic, it becomes even more important as it provides a way for key workers with no other means of transport to get to their place of work.
“It is vital that local authorities do all they can in such circumstances to support local providers and ensure essential services are maintained. Furthermore, the financial support we have given bus companies and the close working relationships we have developed with them will enable them to continue to play a central role in our communities after the pandemic is over.
“We’re keen to carry on these relationships as we move forward and also to see some of the new practices that have been introduced during the pandemic, such as the move to contactless payment, continue in order to improve services for the future.”
Cabinet will meet virtually at 9.30am on Wednesday 8 July. Members of the public can view the meeting on the council’s YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/DurhamCouncil