BUS services in Barnsley are at a ‘critical tipping point’ and face irreparable damage - with scaled-back services and axed routes predicted - unless the government pledges to extend emergency Covid-19 funding, leaders have warned.
Barnsley Central MP Dan Jarvis - who is also Mayor of South Yorkshire - accused Prime Minister Boris Johnson of being ‘asleep at the wheel’ as vital support to keep the borough’s bus services running ends on March 31.
Local leaders gathered on Monday to highlight the impact this will have - and urged the Prime Minister to ‘wake up to the impending disaster’.
( A failure to continue support could mean 50 per cent of buses running face being scaled back or cut completely, they believe.
The government has also halved the £3bn funding available to its flagship Bus Back Better policy, a plan to level up bus services outside of London.( Dan said: “The Prime Minister has a bad track record when it comes to keeping his promises and buses - he is asleep at the wheel as services face disaster.( “Local leaders and I have invested millions to keep people moving and cut fares, while exploring every option to transform our network.
“I’ve pressed operators to put passengers before profit and reconsider damaging cuts, but the government’s failure to level up bus funding will fatally undermine our efforts to give passengers the bus service we need and deserve.”
Crunch talks will be held today, the Chronicle can reveal, which will include Mr Jarvis and South Yorkshire’s four council leaders, to discuss the feasibility of bus franchising.
A document published by the South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority shows bringing in a bus franchise would take three-and-a-half years to implement.
Dan added: “I continue to believe in the huge potential of our buses, but it is clear the current system is not delivering as it should.
“We have to look at every option to transform our region’s transport - and that has to include franchising.
“It is not a silver bullet and we should be under no illusion about the challenges we face, irrespective of which bus model we choose, but greater public control has the potential to help build a bus system that better meets passengers’ needs.
“The assessment is a critical step that sets the stage for franchising if we are satisfied the case has been made.
“Just when we should be working together to rebuild public transport, bus companies that received millions in public subsidy during the pandemic are rushing to cuts and fare hikes that will cut off communities and lock in the harm done by Covid.
“Covid has created huge challenges for our bus network and if we are serious about improving services after the pandemic we need a commitment to long-term investment from all tiers of government.
“Our bus improvement plans are about taking decisive action now to unlock the vital funds we need to tackle the most pressing issues facing passengers, deliver better services and rebuild our public transport system in the aftermath of Covid.
“We due to decide shortly whether to undertake an assessment of a proposed franchising scheme.
“It requires consultation by law and allows the public to put forward their views and help to inform our decisions on how to transform bus services.
“Moving to the formal franchising assessment is the right decision.”