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Sunday, July 14, 2024

‘Hold your nerve’: Mayor slams bus operators for cutting more services

West Yorkshire mayor Tracy Brabin has hit out at bus operators for pulling more services across the region, despite the government extending support funding.

Mayor Brabin revealed she’d had “robust conversations” with Arriva and others and urged companies to “hold their nerve” and avoid hurting passengers further.

The government recently announced a further £130m would be poured into protecting bus services across the country until next March, following extensive lobbying from regional mayors.

Covid support money for the industry was due to be pulled this month, before that announcement, leading to fears that around 10 per cent of West Yorkshire’s buses would be axed.

But despite the bus companies receiving more taxpayer handouts to cover the next five months, there have been more rounds of cuts in recent weeks.

Mayor of West Yorkshire Tracy Brabin

Speaking at a meeting of West Yorkshire Combined Authority (WYCA) meeting of regional leaders on Friday, Mayor Brabin said: “There are real challenges in the bus network, but having worked really hard with other mayors to press government to extends the bus recovery grants, it’s really frustrating that some operators are pressing ahead with service reductions.

“Myself and (Bradford Council leader) Susan Hinchliffe, who chairs the (regional) transport committee have had some quite robust conversations with operators.”

West Yorkshire is due to receive a new £70m package to improve buses at some point early next year.

That however, has been earmarked for things like vehicle upgrades and subsidising fares, with leaders reluctant to spend it all on simply propping up routes that otherwise be cut.

It is not known exactly when that cash will come through, with Mayor Brabin blaming Westminster “chaos” for the lack of clarity.

She added: “The challenges are there for the bus operators and we’re not blind to those.

“The challenge of recruitment of drivers is very real for them.

“So I’m not undermining the challenge, but I hope bus companies share our optimism for the opportunity to enhance and expand our bus network.

“It’s a challenging picture and I really encourage bus operators to hold their nerve, until we can get the bus service improvement money from government.”

In another development, Arriva were labelled “disgraceful”, by the leader of Wakefield Council for hiking smaller fares.

Denise Jeffery told the meeting she was “really angry” that the operator had upped prices by more than 50 per cent on some routes.

As part of a new ‘mayor’s fares’ initiative which started last month, all single journeys in West Yorkshire are capped at £2.

Early indications are that the scheme has boosted passenger numbers, but Councillor Jeffery slammed Arriva for taking advantage of the cap to raise much smaller fares.

She said: “The initiative has been amazing.

“But what’s happened in my district, particularly in the south-east and places like Ryhill and Havercoft, is instead of capping them, fares that were £1.30 were upped to £2.

“That is quite disgraceful, when you think about people trying to get into Wakefield for jobs.

“They’ve cut most of the services in our rural areas and we’ve got students going to Wakefield College who then can’t get home.

“I know we’re doing all we can to get them round the table but I feel really angry about that.”

Arriva has been contacted for comment, but has not responded at the time of writing.

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