Wales injects £29m into buses
Wales’ Minister for Economy and Transport, Ken Skates, has announced a £29m injection into the country’s bus industry. The announcement comes as the coronavirus outbreak has caused a significant drop in patronage across Wales’ bus network, including a 90% reduction in the usual patronage on some TrawsCymru routes.
Ken Skates started his action to support the industry by recommending to the Welsh Local Government Association that local authorities continue to pay a minimum of 75% of the contract value for school and other contracted local passenger services.
The £29m of financial support now announced is to be delivered through grants administered by local authorities. It will be paid monthly up-front until it is able to put a more sustainable solution in place or the end of the first quarter of the financial year, whichever is the earlier. During this time, payments will be based on the value of previous payments of the BSOG, Mandatory Concessionary Fare reimbursement and payments under the MyTravelPass scheme which were determined by number of passengers and route distances in normal times. All operators, including community transport operators, who have qualified for these payments in the previous two quarters will be eligible.
In return for this support, all operators who receive it have been told to commit to the following for the next three months:
- Scheduled services will operate a foundation timetable (contracts to be agreed with Local Authorities), sufficient to allow key workers to get to work and those without a car to get to shops for essential food and medical supplies
- No bus will carry more than 50% of its maximum capacity
- To match the offer announced on our train services, all NHS workers who use a scheduled bus service will travel free of charge
- Each operator will provide us and our partners in the Local Authorities with a weekly report showing how every bus in its fleet has met its obligations. Setting out what routes have been run, what times it arrived at each stop, how many passengers alighted, what the fare each passenger paid, etc.
In a written statement, Ken Skates said: “We have made clear that as well as these commitments, we expect the bus operators to minimise running costs, for example using the UK Government’s Job Retention Scheme for staff who are not needed to run the reduced service.
“I hope that this will give operators some short-term resilience to continue to deliver services, pay employees and sub-contractors, while we work with them to develop the comprehensive package of measures, called for by the scale of the crisis, to secure an efficient, sustainable, and robust bus network.
“In addition, during this period when we are asking people to travel only for essential purposes, we will be temporarily withdrawing the offer of free weekend travel on the Traws Cymru network, and allowing all NHS staff to travel from free on the TrawsCymru network throughout the week from Monday. I will update members on when free weekend travel may be able to return.
“This announcement, together with the specialist support for bus operators available through Business Wales, the Welsh Government’s business rates relief, and the wage subsidy offer available from the UK Government, will go some way towards helping the industry.”
In response to the announcement, NAT Group Managing Director, Adam Keen, said: “The effects of Covid-19 have hit the bus industry very hard indeed, with drops of around 90% in passenger numbers being experienced by many operators. Many businesses have significant fixed costs and while the furloughing scheme assists with wages, there are many other costs associated with running a bus company which cannot simply be ‘parked’ until business restarts. If bus operators are to come out of this the other side in a position of being able to continue, financial support from Welsh Government is absolutely vital.”