Government subsidies worth millions to local bus services may be topped up by Staffordshire County Council.
Following a Department for Transport decision that ‘Covid’ subsidies for bus operators will be extended for a further six months from April, the local authority is also considering extending its own financial support until the end of September.
For the last two years Staffordshire County Council has paid operators the pre-pandemic rate of £7 million per annum for concessionary travel, even though actual user numbers have been far lower.
David Williams, Staffordshire County Council’s Cabinet member for Highways and Transport, said: “Passenger numbers have not returned to pre-pandemic levels and the Government subsidy is essential to maintaining services in the county, which otherwise would have been under threat of closure.
“The county council does not run bus services but has been doing all it can during difficult times to help operators locally.
“We are willing to carry on paying local operators the full concessionary rate for another half-year if they are maintaining routes and show us how they are encouraging passengers to return so that services can become self-sustaining.”
The announcement by the Department for Transport says the ‘final Covid-19 support package’ will provide support for the development of ‘new, effective, financially sustainable networks that cater for the needs of the local public’.
Staffordshire County Council does not run bus services, but does work closely with operators, councils and communities to promote a sustainable transport network wherever possible.
The proposal to extend full payment of the concessionary fare scheme until the end of September, subject to operators promoting use, will be considered at next week’s meeting of the authority’s Cabinet.
David Williams said: “Around 95 per cent of bus services in Staffordshire are entirely commercial and usually there is only a little that the council can do to influence their operation.
“Many people rely on these services for work, study and socialising and their loss would badly affect the county, so we are keen to work with the bus operators to help the network.
“These subsidies will not last indefinitely and I would urge former passengers to return and support their local routes.”