Changes to Nottinghamshire bus services 'highly likely’ after slow recovery from Covid pandemic
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Coun Neil Clarke, Nottinghamshire Council cabinet member for transport and environment, said about 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’.
He said 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The Government’s Covid support package for local transport will be withdrawn in October 2022 – but the council says it will continue funding all services until March 2023.
Coun 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 about 215 bus routes operating across the county. Of those, the council supports about 80 at a cost of about £4.1 million per year.
Coun Clarke said: “We are working with operators to ensure we can keep as many of the services going as we possibly can.”
However, Coun Steve Carr, a Liberal Democrat, has urged the council to ‘come clean on what services they are looking to axe’.
It comes after an email from Gary Wood, head of highways and transport at the council, revealed: “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.”
Coun Clarke said: “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, Papplewick, and Mansfield with places including King’s Mill Hospital, as well as Nottingham, faced the axe by operator Trentbarton after it said it was no longer cost-effective with the ending of the Covid support, but following talks with the council, rival operator Stagecoach has stepped in to take over.
Coun Clarke said: “It’s very well complaining a service may be under threat, but the answer is to use the 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.”
Coun Carr 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.”