Transport chief warns that help is needed for ‘vital’ buses and train services. Martijn Gilbert, from Go North East, has warned that the sector will need financial support to help it recover from the long-term impacts of the pandemic.
The head of a leading public transport company in the North East has warned that his sector will need financial support to help it recover from the long-term impacts of the pandemic and support the region’s economy. Martijn Gilbert is managing director of Go North East – part of the wider Go-Ahead Group – and also chair of NEbus, the North East Bus Operators’ Association.
He said that public transport provides a “vital” role for the North East economy but has warned that, with passenger numbers at around 75% of pre-pandemic levels, many parts of the region’s bus network are loss making.
Earlier this week the Government announced a £150m funding package to be shared by bus and light rail operators in England in a bid to help prop them up until October this year. But that funding has already been criticised for not meeting the challenge facing bus and train operators, with cuts being planned for a number of communities in the region.
Mr Gilbert said: “It’s vital that we keep in mind the huge role that public transport plays in our local communities. If we have to cut services at this point, then much of the funding provided by Government to maintain networks over the last few years would have been wasted.
“To keep our buses running at present levels, and to build up services as latent demand is unleashed by priority schemes, we need ongoing Covid support funding to ‘bridge the gap’ as customers numbers rebuild. We do, however, need to be pragmatic about the need for change. The way people work, shop and travel has changed and the bus network needs to adapt to new demand patterns reflecting this.”
“Buses are a mass mover of people, and not always the best solution for every single travel need, but they are appropriate for a very large number of journeys. Although we’re hopeful that some form of support will stay in place, worst case scenario plans have been discussed with local authorities in case a funding cliff edge comes at the end of the current Government financial year (end of March).”
“Let me be clear though – bus operators will still be continuing many services in the short term that don’t cover their costs as they grow back. We’re very deliberately taking a long-term view and don’t want to be dependent on Covid support for any longer than is necessary, but the challenge without support in some areas will be too great. Making bus services financially sustainable is important to keep them running, to protect jobs and unlock future investment in more new and better buses.”
On Tuesday, the Government said it would be making more than £150m available to public transport operators, though it is not yet known how much of that money will be coming to the North East.
It has been expected that the region’s three big bus companies, Stagecoach, Arriva and Go North East, would be cutting their mileage by up to 17% over the coming months due to the withdrawal of funding, with an initial set of cuts affecting more than 30 routes in Newcastle and North Tyneside confirmed last week.
Martin Gannon, chair of the North East Joint Transport Committee and Gateshead Council leader, said he feared the new funding was “a short-term sticking plaster that will not save us from cuts to the bus network either now or in the future”.
Reacting to this week’s funding package, Mr Gilbert said: “We welcome the news on a new support package, which will avoid the immediate cliff edge that many people were citing, and we are now working through the detail of this and what it will mean for us. People’s underlying travel patterns are, however, seeing many changes such as from blended home and office working and a greater switch to online retailing, and the public transport network will need to adapt to that.”
Source: Business Live