Nottinghamshire County Council is drawing up a “use it or lose it” sales campaign to encourage more people onto buses.
It comes as part of a wider review of the bus network as the authority plans for Government support to come to an end next spring.
Last month the authority confirmed a three-year plan will be drawn up to offer long-term certainty for the county’s bus services.
The plan and the wider review are in response to usage numbers currently standing at between 80 and 85 per cent of pre-pandemic levels.
Usage is even lower for concessionary pass holders, at about three quarters of the levels seen prior to the emergence of Covid-19.
Passenger reductions have caused some operators to face losing money on routes while trying to keep services going.
The authority says this is part of a national trend resulting from changing work patterns, more online shopping and a reluctance to use buses caused by the “legacy of Covid”.
Providers are also struggling with staff shortages with Trentbarton – which runs routes across Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and Leicestershire – confirming in August it had 130 active vacancies.
The company said this was the cause of 1,614 individual services being cancelled in just two weeks across August.
Nottinghamshire County Council’s three-year plan will help to address gaps in the market caused by both ongoing issues.
It will follow a review of the 80 services currently financially supported by the authority.
21 struggling routes have already been provided with financial backing until next April, when Government bus support funding is expected to come to an end.
This will be supported by £3.9m of funding from the Government’s Bus Service Improvement Plan (BSIP), provided specifically to improve local services over three years.
And, while the review is ongoing, the authority is drawing up plans for a sales campaign to encourage more people back onto the network.
Details are still being finalised on this sales plan, although the authority’s place select committee meeting on Wednesday (October 12) heard it will have a ‘use it or lose it’ focus.
Speaking in the meeting, Councillor Neil Clarke (Con), portfolio holder for transport and environment, said:
“We need to make sure we sell the services, whether it’s our own services or commercial services.
“We’ve really got to push getting people back onto buses because, if they don’t, then obviously they are going to be under threat.
“If nobody’s on it, it’s really hard to justify it – especially with budgetary constraints.”
The cabinet member was questioned by councillors who asked for more details about the scope of the ongoing bus review.
Cllr Penny Gowland (Lab), who represents West Bridgford North, said: “I completely agree about the ‘use it or lose it’.
“I did hear you’re not going to start the sales campaign until the reliability of services has improved and I can see that.
“But if reliability hasn’t improved, there’s no money to pay drivers and it gets to a worse situation.”
In response, Cllr Clarke said more details on the review and the sales plan will come forward in the coming months.
But he suggested it could involve the frequency of some bus services reducing to ensure the ones on the schedule are more likely to turn up.
“We all agree there’s nothing worse than having the schedule of a bus service and then it not turning up,” he said.
“That’s one of the things in the review we need to look at.
“If there’s a regular service, for example, every 15 minutes or half an hour, is it better to reduce that frequency but then ensure that the bus always turns up?
“Across the whole industry and across the whole country there are issues about shortages of drivers, so perhaps certainty is better to be delivered if there’s a slightly-reduced frequency.”
He added that the authority has been lobbying the Government for more funding and support.
And council officers told the meeting the future East Midlands devolution deal is expected to improve bus services in the region.
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