Support for bus services during coronavirus pandemic
Bus services in County Durham have been significantly impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, but close working between operators and the county council has helped ensure vital services have continued.
Cabinet will hear next week how the authority has also provided operators with £4 million in financial support, enabling the continuation of services to help key workers to travel during the crisis.
A report to be discussed by Cabinet members on Wednesday, 8 July, states that since the beginning of April, bus services have been operating at between 30 per cent and 40 per cent of normal levels. This is due to a dramatic fall in passenger numbers of about 90 per cent as well as the lack of availability of drivers. This situation is reflected around the country.
However, the bus network has remained vital to the economic and social wellbeing of the region during the pandemic and, as such, urgent action has been needed to ensure an essential network has been maintained.
Financial support to operators
In order to do this, we have been providing financial support to operators through the English National Concessionary Travel Scheme and via tendered services, which have been maintained at pre-coronavirus levels. This is in line with government guidance.
This funding has been dependent on a number of conditions, including agreeing days and hours of operation and the frequency of services and destinations to ensure services for essential workers continue.
We have also been working closely with a range of partners, including the Confederation of Passenger Transport and the North East Bus Operators Association, whose involvement has been pivotal to the ongoing work.
We are now hoping to continue these close working relationships in order to ensure operators' financial viability during the crisis but also protect jobs and services in the longer term.
Supporting essential transport network
Cllr Carl Marshall, our Cabinet member for economic regeneration, said: "The local bus network is a key part of our transport system, providing access to employment, healthcare, education, training, leisure and shopping.
"In a situation such as the coronavirus pandemic, it becomes even more important as it provides a way for key workers with no other means of transport to get to their place of work.
"It is vital that local authorities do all they can in such circumstances to support local providers and ensure essential services are maintained. Furthermore, the financial support we have given bus companies and the close working relationships we have developed with them will enable them to continue to play a central role in our communities after the pandemic is over.
"We're keen to carry on these relationships as we move forward and also to see some of the new practices that have been introduced during the pandemic, such as the move to contactless payment, continue in order to improve services for the future."
Cabinet will meet virtually on our Youtube channel at 9.30am on Wednesday 8 July. Watch our Cabinet meeting live online.