Concerns over empty buses in Flintshire following passenger drop
Concerns have been raised over the sight of empty buses in Flintshire following a sharp drop in passenger numbers during the Covid-19 pandemic.
A report presented to councillors has highlighted how people have become reluctant to use public transport due to the risk of catching the virus.
The change in travel habits has resulted in bus firms in the county struggling to keep services running amid a shortage of drivers and rising operating costs.
It has also had a knock-on effect on the amount paid by Flintshire Council towards subsidised bus services.
Officials said the cost of running a key route between Mold and Ellesmere Port nearly trebled after a company terminated its contract in July 2020, leading to the service being re-tendered.
A community leader has now voiced fears over the future of public transport in the area after witnessing a large number of buses travelling without passengers.
Speaking at a meeting on Tuesday (February 8, 2022), Cilcain councillor Owen Thomas said: “I realise that this is a very difficult situation, but it is bad to see them running around in the countryside with no passengers at all.
“I think that it needs a lot of looking into and that we can improve things.
“It’s going to be very hard but there are two sides to this and that is the council’s costs and the operators’ cost.
“We can’t have these buses running around empty. I see it every day now and it must be costly.”
The council said it had been able to use Welsh Government money to address a gap in funding for the route which was re-tendered.
However, the increased cost has had a knock-on effect on its budget for bus services, resulting in a financial pressure of £100,000.
Cllr Derek Butler, cabinet member for economic development, said better solutions were required to address the problem.
He said: “All kinds of things have been tried during recent years, including Uber, rickshaws and tuk tuks.
“But a proper integrated transport system that’s resourced and actually takes people to where they want to go on a regular basis is all people are asking for.
“It’s not rocket science, but it certainly needs some resource putting in there because all it’s doing is driving people to SUVs and Chelsea tractors.”
Despite a gradual rise in passenger numbers since lockdown measures were eased, officers told members of the authority’s environment and economy scrutiny committee that bus companies were struggling to make ends meet.
Ceri Hansom, the council’s integrated transport unit manager, said: “Despite the financial support that operators have had, the recent experience has demonstrated they are finding it increasingly difficult to maintain services.
“Passenger numbers have significantly declined over the last 18 months, which is impacting the sustainability of the services that they’re operating.
“Some of our companies have reported that drivers were being offered other roles with increased salaries to drive HGVs.”
Council staff are currently working with Transport for Wales, the Welsh Local Government Association and the Welsh Government to review the local public transport network.
Proposed improvements include the introduction of cross-ticketing schemes, infrastructure upgrades, marketing initiatives, and revised agreements with operators.
Katie Wilby, the authority’s chief officer for streetscene and transportation, said: “We’re taking into account how we can get more passengers and encourage behavioural change so that the bus is seen as a viable option as an alternative to the car.
“We’re looking at fares, we’re looking at timetables on the routes themselves, and a whole raft of different things.
“One of the issues with deregulation is the fact that commercial operators have operated routes on the most financially viable corridors. The more rural areas have suffered as a result.”
She said the council had been working to create a new service model, with a core network of buses running along main routes and feeder services linking in.
Committee members voted to support the measures being taken at the end of the debate.
Liam Randall – Local Democracy Reporter (more here). Spotted something? Got a story? Send a Facebook Message | A direct message on Twitter | Email: News@Deeside.com