A bus operator’s decision to withdraw or reduce 10 services in and around Hereford from the start of next year has thrown a spanner into plans to increase and improve bus provision in the county.

Yeomans this week announced it was pulling the services due to passenger numbers being only around half pre-pandemic levels, compounded by government support to bus companies ending in September.

Now the county’s head of transport, Coun John Harrington, says he believes Herefordshire Council’s pro-bus strategy can still be brought back on track.

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In March the Government published its national bus strategy for England, which called for councils to work with bus operators to produce “bus service improvement plans” in order to access support funding totalling £3bn.

“All local partners agreed on this, and so we applied for £18 million from the government,” Coun Harrington said.

“We won’t know the outcome till next year, and it won’t be available till April. But that would give us a really good boost, enabling us to bring back half-hourly services to the market towns, and more regular services within the city.”

The money would “enable more subsidies, encourage more ridership, bring in more electronic payments and single ticketing across different providers”, he explained.

“We also want to bring in some infrastructure improvements in Hereford, and to give buses advantages at junctions.”

And if the government grant isn’t forthcoming, “We will find the funding if we have to,” Coun Harrington said.

Since the 1980s, bus services outside London have operated on an open market basis, with councils unable to run their own services or to control fares.

While they can still subsidise services, in practice the decline in central funding over the last decade has limited the scope for this.

“So we have to think about where that money will come from, and how we can get everyone working together on this,” Coun Harrington said.

“We don’t have a huge influence on commercial bus services, but we do have a responsibility for services such as the 71S from Credenhill for Whitecross schoolchildren. We think we can cover that.”

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The withdrawn city services will now go out to other bus companies for a short tender for January to March, he explained.

Describing Yeomans’ decision as “disappointing”, he said: “At no point did they say they had a problem, though they had the opportunity to.

“They just dropped in their six-week notice saying, ‘we can’t do these routes’.”

Yeomans, based in Old School Lane, said it was no longer financially viable to run the routes as passenger numbers had halved since 2019 and it had to act now to protect its future.