Child bus fares increase to £1 and ‘Zoom’ concessions axed

REGIONAL leaders criticised the government for allocating them only “about half of what we need” to protect a bus network already “on its knees”.

South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority has proposed to increase child fares from 80p to £1 from November 1, and axe the Zoom Beyond concessions for passengers aged 18 to 21.

The Department for Transport had already announced that the general £2 cap on single bus journeys would rise to £2.50 for one year after the end of October.

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SYMCA approved an increase in single tram journeys from £2 to £2.80 from the same date.

Cllr Chris Read, leader of Rotherham Council, said: “The bus network is under incredible pressure as a result of two things.

“One is that there are fewer people using buses after Covid. Whilst the number of people using buses is still increasing, it’s increasing slowly.

“The second one is that the government has just not put enough money in to enable us to continue to run services at the price that they had been at. There is not enough government money in the system.

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“That is the issue that drives us to have to make some choices.”

Cllr Steve Houghton, the leader of Barnsley Council, told Monday’s (31) meeting that if it was not for the financial management of SYMCA, this position would be worse.

He said: “Protecting the network has got to be the first priority – there is little point in having benefits in other ways if you haven’t got a bus turning up.”

Cllr Tom Hunt, the leader of Sheffield Council, added that the DfT’s allocation of £3.1million was “around 50 per cent of the previous” grant funding settlements for this area.

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“That is the reality there,” he added. “We’re getting about half of what we need in order to keep the network running in the way we wanted to.”

An SYMCA report this week said the government grant would be combined with local reserves and a Treasury management surplus to provide about £17 million of funding to protect bus services and concessionary discounts as far as possible.

It added: “The £6.3m allocation of Bus Service Improvement Plan Plus to South Yorkshire is considerably lower than the allocations seen elsewhere in England, some of which are in excess of £100 million.

“As such, South Yorkshire’s ability to adequately protect bus services from further cuts is significantly compromised.”

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The report noted the use of about £8 million of reserves previously earmarked to transport activity, which would be complemented by the increased £1 child fare, the latter of which would save £800,000 in subsidy costs in the first year.

But there are continued questions about trams. The report notes: “As the tram system returns to public control in March 2024, the most efficient means of running those services will need to be considered.”

South Yorkshire Mayor Oliver Coppard added these were “an appalling set of choices we’ve been asked to make right now”.

He added: “We’re still facing horrific cuts to bus services across South Yorkshire – a service which was already on its knees will be cut even further.