Every Nottinghamshire community will be connected to a bus or other public transport route under new county council plans to support struggling services.
The Conservative-led authority has said millions of pounds will be committed in next year’s budget to ensure communities are not left isolated.
Some bus providers across the country continue to struggle in regaining passenger numbers, and in many areas usage is still below pre-pandemic levels.
Council papers have revealed average passenger levels are still only about 80 per cent of their pre-Covid levels for urban areas of the county.
For rural communities, bus usage is at between 60 and 65 per cent of the levels seen prior to the first coronavirus lockdown in March 2020.
The authority has been supported by a series of Government grants to fund struggling services, including the Bus Recovery Grant and the Bus Service Improvement Plan (BSIP).
The council has this week confirmed a further eight routes will be supported through £3.9m in BSIP cash in 2023/24.
This includes Stagecoach’s 6/7 route in Bassetlaw, its 14/15 route in Mansfield, Ollerton and Walesby and its Mansfield Miller route between Mansfield Woodhouse, the town centre and Sutton.
Trentbarton’s 90 route between Sutton and Ripley will also be supported alongside its Rushcliffe Villager service.
Nottingham City Transport’s 46/47 route between Woodborough and the city will get support, as well as Marshalls’ 90 route from Newark to Nottingham and its 37 route from Retford to Newark.
Speaking ahead of the budget meeting on Thursday (February 9), Cllr Ben Bradley MP (Con), the authority’s leader, said it’s vital to keep these routes alive.
“Commercially, at the minute, it’s really difficult because bus providers are not yet back up to pre-Covid levels of passengers,” he said.
“That’s why we have invested in supporting bus operators and some of the routes that are struggling.
“We’ve made sure that, instead of some routes closing or reducing from April 1, we’re stepping in to make sure they continue.
“We’ve made a commitment that every community will be connected to public transport and we’re going to stick to that.”
In total, the authority has been awarded £12.9m in BSIP cash which will be added to the transport and environment portfolio budget for 2023/24.
Another £600,000 will also be added through externally-funded bus improvement programme cash to support public transport in the county.
Cllr Bradley adds that the authority will be funding ‘innovation’ in bus services, such as rolling out further on-demand bus schemes.
This system has already been successfully trialled in Ollerton and Mansfield and is expected to be introduced to southwest Rushcliffe this year.
This service could be used as a replacement for struggling bus routes if assessments view it as better value for money.
“The intention of those is that, where you’ve got those less commercially-viable routes, the rural routes that join small villages, you can call an on-demand bus to you,” Cllr Bradley added.
“That will be much more flexible and helpful for those communities and it’s much more cost-effective.
“We hope the long-term solution to this is the innovative options and, from May next year with the devolution deal, that will come with extra funding for public transport infrastructure.