Posted: Thu 3rd Feb 2022

Bus firms in Flintshire face struggle to run services due to Covid impact

News and Info from Deeside, Flintshire, North Wales
This article is old - Published: Thursday, Feb 3rd, 2022

Bus firms in Flintshire are facing an uphill struggle to keep services running due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, a new report has revealed. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

It follows a significant drop in passenger numbers in the county after the spread of the virus left people reluctant to use public transport. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

Flintshire Council officials said a driver shortage had added to the problems, with bus operators and the local authority now facing spiralling costs. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

In July 2020, a key service between Mold and Ellesmere Port was brought to a halt after one company terminated its contract because of the financial toll of the pandemic. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

Although the number five service was successfully re-tendered, the council said the cost of running it had nearly trebled and it is now looking at ways to encourage passengers to return. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

In a report, the authority’s chief officer for streetscene and transportation Katie Wilby said: “Recent experience has demonstrated that bus operators are finding it increasingly difficult to maintain the commercial viability of some bus services. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

“Passenger numbers on public transport have declined significantly over the last 18 months, which is significantly impacting the sustainability of bus services. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

“Over the years, we have observed a reduction in the number of bus operators in the market, which is an issue across the country. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

“Consequently, the current competition in the bus industry is extremely limited, which resulted in only two operators submitting bids for the number five bus route.” ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

Whilst the council was able to use Welsh Government money to address a funding gap for the route, the increased cost has had a knock-on effect on its budget for bus services. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

It has resulted in a financial pressure of £100,000 being identified, despite a gradual rise in passenger numbers. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

Officials have expressed concerns that people’s travelling habits may have changed during the pandemic, with many still working from home. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

Operators have also reported a shortage of drivers due to the long-term health effects of Covid-19, with some leaving due to concerns over their safety while others have been offered higher salaries to become delivery drivers. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

Ms Wilby said: “Whilst the public transport network is slowly starting to recover and services have started to stabilise we continue to face challenges ahead. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

“The consumer price index for transport services in the UK indicates that, since January 2015, prices in the transport sector have increased by over 27 per cent. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

“Governments and local authorities are keen to address the decline in bus use that has been experienced over the years and making bus services more attractive is key to achieving this. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

“We recognise that we need an effective public transport network to ensure economic recovery and that communities are connected.” ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

Approximately 220 transport routes, including taxis and buses, are due to be procured by the council this year, resulting in an estimated budget pressure of between £184,000 to £555,000. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

Officers are working with Transport for Wales, the Welsh Local Government Association and the Welsh Government to review the public transport network. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

Proposed improvements include the introduction of cross-ticketing schemes, infrastructure upgrades, marketing initiatives, and revised agreements with operators. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

The report will be discussed by members of the council’s environment and economy scrutiny committee at a meeting on Tuesday (February 8, 2022). ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

Liam Randall – Local Democracy Reporter (more here). ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

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