TEMPORARY contracts have been awarded to ensure in-need passengers are not left in the lurch by damaging cuts to bus services - after a review found ‘significant pressures’ are being faced due to funding pressures.
South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority (SYMCA) bosses noted that bus services had faced a turbulent three years since the onset of Covid-19 with short-term funding settlements, significant fluctuations in patronage and increasing pressures on budgets being encountered.
Temporary contracts - which will run through to September - have been announced to maintain the network as it is, pending the long-term review’s outcome.
However, a report warned more routes face being culled - unless the government step in and provide a better financial package.
The Department for Transport (DfT) approved a £300m national package last month - but South Yorkshire’s £3.15m for the next two years ‘falls way short’ on what is usually given.
“It was noted that in May 2023 the DfT had announced the continuation of bus support funding until 2025,” the report said.
“However, significant pressures remain on the system, and it was recommended that the SYMCA review options for ensuring network stability and recognise that this introduces a short delay to any required changes to networks, fares and concessions initiatives.
“Board members stressed the importance of public transport to communities, noting that struggling bus services impact upon the most vulnerable.
“It was asserted that without greater government funding, a closer interrogation would be needed into the root causes of the problems in the public transport system in the region.
“A temporary deferral of any changes will incur some costs but that these should be managed within the constraints of available funding.
“The award of temporary contracts through to September will maintain the network as is, pending the review of services required.
“SYMCA officers will engage as a matter of priority with local authority transport colleagues to ensure that final decisions on bus network changes and amendments to fares and concessions take account of local circumstances.”
Campaigners from the Better Buses for South Yorkshire group likened the issue to putting a ‘sticking plaster on a broken system’.
Spokesperson Matthew Topham told the Chronicle: “The government’s funding currently falls £90m short of what’s needed.
“Private operators control our services and can effectively hold the public to ransom: pay up or lose lifeline routes.
“Taking buses into London-style public control would not only make these decisions accountable to the public, it’d lift the ban on cross-subsidising quieter but essential services with the profits from busy routes.
“Our mayor is assessing introducing public control here.
“Every month this isn’t introduced we hand millions over to First and Stagecoach while gaining no meaningful say over the services we rely on.
“It can’t come soon enough.”