A LOCAL Councillor and bus driver has told a committee that there is a "massive shortage" is bus staff - with many drivers reconsidering their careers due to the pandemic.

At a recent meeting of West Yorkshire Combined Authority's Transport Committee, members heard that West Yorkshire was currently short of around 250 bus drivers - around 10 per cent of the workforce.

It was down to a mixture of drivers being tempted to switch to high paying haulage jobs, stagnant conditions and the strains of front line work through the pandemic.

One member, himself a bus driver, said much more needed to be done to make the industry attractive to not just potential new drivers, but also to existing drivers who may be reconsidering their careers.

The committee was discussing West Yorkshire's Bus Improvement Plan - a document that will set out how bus services will recover from Covid and needs to be completed by the end of next month for the region to be eligible for millions in funding.

Bradford Council Leader Susan Hinchcliffe, also chair of the Committee, said the plan needed to improve bus services, not just return them to the pre-Covid status quo.

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David Pearson, Director of Transport Services, said bus journeys were currently around 65 per cent of what they were in 2019.

He said: "There are now more young people travelling to school and college by bus which is a healthy sign. But there still hasn't been a major return to patronage.

Members heard that local bus users had experienced services being dropped at the last minute, which Councillor, Taj Salam (Lab, Little Horton) said was partly down to staff shortages.

Cllr Salam, also a bus driver and branch secretary for the Unite Union, told the meeting: "There is a massive staff shortage at this moment in time.

"There are services being dropped.

"A lot of drivers are re-thinking their careers. A lot of operators are finding it difficult.

"When we talk about making the career attractive to new applicants is one thing. We also need to make the industry more attractive for people already employed in the industry. If we don't make it attractive to them, they'll leave."

He said that driving buses during the height of Covid, and all the pressures that caused, led to many drivers rethinking their careers.

Mr Pearson said West Yorkshire bus operators were currently short of around 250 staff - roughly 10 per cent of their total workforce.

He added: "This is having an impact on the passenger experience due to cancellations and short notice changes.

"The industry does have a regular staff turnover that tends to fluctuate. Normally you'd expect to see a staff turnover each year between five and 15 per cent. Currently we are seeing double that."

He said pressures on the haulage industry meant many people who drive for a career were switching to becoming HGV drivers. He added: "The pandemic is playing a role, causing sickness, isolation and changes to people's personal circumstances. Add to that delays to licensing and testing and it makes it very difficult for bus operators to get new people into the industry.

"I spoke to one operator the other day, and they were saying that by the time someone signs up to be a bus driver, the time it takes to get tested and get a licence, they have often moved on to another job.

"Driver shortages will be the issue of the Autumn, although hopefully only the Autumn."

Cllr Hinchcliffe said: "It is important to stress that despite all this we won't accept a reduction in services. There has never been a higher level of public subsidy for operators, so we still expect a decent service for our residents."