It is ‘highly likely’ some bus routes in Nottinghamshire could face changes next year after passenger numbers recovered more slowly than expected following the pandemic.
Nottinghamshire County Council’s Cabinet Member for Transport and Environment, Neil Clarke, said around 20 commercial bus routes have been identified as needing support to continue to recover from the pandemic.
Council officers are speaking to bus operators about routes where usage is low to discover “what changes will be necessary”.
Conservative Cllr Clarke said that the authority is “working hard to keep services going” – but he said it was “impossible to say” if some services will be cut next year.
The Government’s Covid support package for local transport will be withdrawn in October 2022 – but the council says it will continue funding all services until March 2023.
Cllr Clarke insisted the idea of reviewing services is not to axe buses, it is to identify which routes can be helped to ensure they are viable.
There are around 215 bus routes that operate across the county and of those, the county council supports around 80 at a cost of around £4.1m per year.
“We are working with operators to ensure we can keep as many of the services going as we possibly can”, Cllr Clarke said.
But Cllr Steve Carr (Lib Dem), has urged the council to “come clean on what services they are looking to axe”.
It comes after an email from the Head of Highways and Transport at the county council, Gary Wood said: “It’s highly likely there will be further changes to commercial services due to slow passenger recovery, driver recruitment/retention challenges and escalating operational costs i.e. fuel.”
Cllr Clarke added: “I hope we can find a way of tweaking services.
“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.”
Recently the 141 bus route, which connects Sutton-in-Ashfield, Hucknall and Mansfield with places including King’s Mill and Nottingham City Hospitals, as well as Nottingham city, faced the axe by operator Trent Barton.
But the county council agreed to run an exercise with local bus operators to tender for a replacement service for the 141. The service will be reviewed again in 12 months.
Cllr Clarke added: “It’s very well complaining that a bus service may be under threat but the answer is to use the bus service to make it viable.
“The recovery has been slower than anticipated because there has been anxiety about being in close contact with other people.
“That’s why we are piloting demand-responsive travel for places with sparse usage, so for those people for whom the bus is a lifeline, they can ring up and ask for the bus to pick them up.”
Cllr Carr, who sits with the Ashfield Independents at the county council, said: “I think people have the right to know, as council taxpayers, whether their route is under threat or not.
“There seems to be no forethought about economic development being important too.”
Councillor Jason Zadrozny, Leader of the Independent Alliance at County Hall, said: “Having seen the uproar that plans to axe the 141 caused – it’s clear that any further cuts will lead to even more fury.
“It’s now clear that this is the tip of the iceberg. They now need to reveal their plans.”