Norfolk transport users group calls for action over bus grant cuts

Liam Jonas touched a girl and a woman on buses in Great Yarmouth

Government grants which helped bus operators keep running services during Covid are about to end. - Credit: Anthony Carroll

A transport users group is calling for the government to continue a vital bus funding scheme as it fears services will be severely curtailed otherwise.

The East Norfolk Transport Users Association (ENTUA) is calling for the government to extend payment of the Bus Recovery Grant, which is scheduled to end in March.

In Norfolk the grant is worth £790,000.

The association wants the grant, designed to help bus companies during the Covid crisis, to be extended beyond the end date to allow the number of bus users to grow to pre-pandemic levels.

And ENTUA is also asking the region's bus companies to consider reducing the frequency of buses instead of axing routes if the funding is stopped.

Steve Hewitt and Tony Grice of ENTUA

Members of East Norfolk Users Transport Association are calling for the government to extend the Bus Recovery Grant. - Credit: Archant

A spokesperson from ENTUA said: "If the grant does end in March, it could mean, via national predictions  up to a third of services could be axed

"ENTUA also asks bus operators, if the grant is axed or significantly reduced, they should try to avoid axing services completely but to compromise by looking at, where possible, to introduce a reduction in frequency on some routes to allow passengers to have the chance to still travel to work, school, shopping or for health care.

Steve Wickers, managing director at First Eastern Counties said: ”We are still awaiting confirmation from central government on the date when funding will cease to support local bus services.

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"We are doing everything we can to encourage people back onto the bus network but presently we are still only experiencing around 70pc usage from people who used bus services before the pandemic.

“We are constantly monitoring the travel patterns of people who are travelling with us and we are continuing to operate services to match demand.

"It is too soon to determine what, if any, changes may need to be introduced to the network when funding ends.

"However we are hopeful that as restrictions are being lifted, more people will start to return back to using our services over the coming months.”

Jeremy Cooper, managing director, Go-East Anglia.

Jeremy Cooper, managing director, Go-East Anglia. - Credit: Archant

Jeremy Cooper, managing director of konectbus, said: "We are hopeful that passenger numbers will recover quickly now so that we won’t need to make difficult short term decisions."

He said it was difficult to draw a direct comparison with current passenger numbers compared to pre-pandemic levels.

But said numbers had "picked up significantly" recently.