Monday 15 July 2024
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Nottingham

Council to review entire county bus network amid drop in passenger numbers and driver shortages

Nottinghamshire County Council is drawing up a three-year plan to support struggling bus services as passenger numbers fail to return to pre-Covid levels.

The  authority will review the entire county network this autumn to assess all bus routes and identify the services most in need of financial support.

Figures show the bus sector is struggling across Nottinghamshire, with usage currently only back to 80 to 85 per cent of the numbers seen prior to the pandemic.

Usage is even lower for concessionary pass holders at about three-quarters of the pre-pandemic level.

It means operators have begun to face losing money on some routes while keeping services going.

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The authority says this is a national trend resulting from changing work patterns, more online shopping and a reluctance to use buses due to the “legacy of Covid”.

Many bus providers are also experiencing staff shortages, causing hundreds of services to be cancelled each week.

Operator Trentbarton, which provides dozens of services in the East Midlands, revealed earlier this month it currently has 130 vacancies in its driver workforce.

The company said this was the cause of 1,614 individual services being cancelled in just two weeks in August.

Now the county council says it will draw up a three-year plan to address gaps in the market across Nottinghamshire and offer long-term certainty to providers once a Government recovery grant ends.

The authority says it has received £3.9m from the Government’s Bus Service Improvement Plan (BSIP) pot to improve local bus services over the three years.

It will follow a review of the 80 services currently financially supported by the authority, with 20 struggling routes having already been provided financial backing until next April.

In a report, Adrian Smith, the council’s corporate director for place, said: “It is intended to use the £3.9m of funding to support current services and, if possible, to provide transport where gaps have been identified in the network following the review.

“The council is continuing to have a dialogue with bus operators and other local authorities to develop plans to support the bus sector’s recovery.

“Included in these discussions is joint work to promote bus usage, tailored to specific users including concessionary fare users to help the sector recover.”

In the summer, Trentbarton also announced the removal of the 141 service – which connects Ashfield and Mansfield with Nottingham – saying dwindling passenger numbers made the route unaffordable to run.

The county council did, however, step in following widespread public concern, and provided a year’s worth of funding to continue the service through a 12-month contract with rival provider Stagecoach.

Councillor Neil Clarke (Con), the authority’s cabinet member for transport and environment, will approve the moves during a delegated deicison this week.

Speaking last month, Cllr Clarke said: “We are working with operators to ensure we can keep as many of the services going as we possibly can.

“They might not be able to stay exactly as they are now, and I’ve no doubt there will be some sort of changes, but the intention is to keep services running as best we can.

“No decisions have been made at all and there is no intention to axe anything.

“It’s a question of taking the time out to review and make sure we can keep services going.”

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