A GOVERNMENT announcement that emergency funding for bus services will continue in the short term is just a "stop gap" solution - according to local transport bosses.

The announcement from the Department for Transport today (Saturday) confirms that the Government’s support to the bus industry will continue to be on a short-term basis, with funding being directly awarded to operators.

West Yorkshire Combined Authority has been required by Government to keep funding bus operators as if all services were running and passenger numbers were at pre lockdown levels.

At the same time, the Combined Authority has been planning for the return of school bus services, with pupils who use regular bus services needing to maintain social distancing.

Since lockdown began the Authority has said the longer the crisis went on, the more likely it was that "difficult" decisions would need to be made about what services and concessions, such as free bus travel for the elderly, would continue to be funded by the public purse.

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After today's announcement the Authority said "Without a long-term funding solution from government, some local bus services and the ability to provide additional services for schools returning may be under threat.

"Buses are an essential part of the West Yorkshire transport system; over 70% of public transport journeys are made by bus, in normal times almost 3 million bus journeys are made each week, connecting communities to work, education and services.  "

Cllr Judith Blake, Leader of Leeds City Council and West Yorkshire Combined Authority Transport Lead, said:  “COVID-19 is putting huge financial pressure on the bus network and, in turn, the Combined Authority. The emergency support we have been providing to ensure services are there for the people who need them is unsustainable over the longer term. 

“This announcement is only a stop-gap solution and will not ensure the long-term viability of the bus network. The Government needs to fund and empower transport authorities to commission the services that meet local needs and secure the best outcome for passengers.”

Cllr Kim Groves, Chair of the West Yorkshire Combined Authority Transport Committee, said:  “We continue to work with our partner councils, bus operators and others to make sure the transport network is as resilient as possible. However, without long-term funding from government, communities may lose their bus service.

“This announcement is disappointing and we will continue to press the Government to work with us to ensure services meet local needs, including the need for additional bus services to ensure a safe return to school for pupils across the region.”