July 18, 2022 12.03 pm

Bus services not expected to improve for two years, councillors concede

Passenger numbers “stubbornly low”

Public transport in Lincolnshire won’t be expanding for another two years, council bosses have said, as “stubbornly low” passenger numbers “plateau”.

Lincolnshire County Council’s Highways and Transport Scrutiny Committee on Monday was told by Assistant Director for Communities Nicole Hilton that all efforts were currently directed at stabilising the current bus network post-COVID to “make sure that it doesn’t reduce any further”.

However, councillors feared issues with reliability, a lack of night-time services and few bus shelter improvements could put more pressure on current issues.

Hilton told councillors that declining passenger numbers had been “further exacerbated” by COVID and remained “stubbornly low” with around 70%.

“Whilst we had high hopes for the summer period increasing that actually it’s plateaued and doesn’t seem to be increasing.”

She later added: “Where we were three years ago, and what our aspirations and hopes were for the network are now very, very different.

“We’re not going to be in a position to look at expanding in any way, for at least I would suggest another two years.”

She said there were further impacts from lack of use by concessionary passengers, which often consisted of the elderly, disabled or otherwise vulnerable which had been told during the pandemic to stay away from public transport.

“Those numbers have not returned by any means to the number of pre-COVID and they remain about 55 to 65%,” she added.

“Those people have found alternative ways of travelling, of meeting their kind of everyday needs, such as having a higher reliance on delivery or family members and friends and neighbours taking them to and from particular appointments or responsibilities.”

Recent attempts to get funding from the Government had also been unsuccessful, while support given during the pandemic was due to come to an end in October.

Meanwhile, companies also continued to suffer from a national shortage of drivers.

She said operators were not currently prepared to fork up the upfront costs to build networks “in the hope that we will then build greater numbers of passengers”.

Councillors, however, feared that a lack of investment will result in less services, and therefore less passengers.

Councillor Stephen Roe said ad hoc cancelled services are a “self-fulfilling prophecy”.

“People aren’t using buses because they’re not there.”

Councillor Tom Dyer pointed out a series of cancellations announced that morning on social media.

“If you want to get people onto services you have to provide a reliable service and at the moment this isn’t reliable,” he said.

Nicole Hilton told councillors there were thousands of routes and that only 2% were not running or had been cancelled.

“For a county as big of Lincolnshire that’s successful,” they said.

Councillors, however, were full of praise for Call Connect and other voluntary services.