Yeomans Travel to end commercial services as Covid-19 recovery bites

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Operator blames dwindling passenger numbers and a poor recovery from the pandemic as services are no longer viable

Hereford-based Yeomans Travel announced via its Facebook page on Thursday 18 November that it was to end its commercial bus service network. The operator stated: “Yeomans Travel has made the difficult decision to withdraw most of its commercial bus services in the City of Hereford, the last day being New Year’s Eve, Friday 31 December 2021. Yeomans Travel has been family owned for over a century and currently provides bus and school services, contracts, private hire and holiday tours. In September 2015 we stepped in and kept the bus services running when First closed its Hereford depot citing that it was not viable to operate with such low passenger numbers. Most of the Hereford city bus services are run on a commercial basis without any Council subsidy. The Government had given financial support to all bus companies during the Covid-19 crisis to keep some services operating but this finished at the end of September. Since then we have continued to operate these services without support but this is not sustainable.

“In recent years, and especially since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, the number of passengers carried has been in slow decline as more people have bought cars and traffic congestion in the city has got steadily worse. The rise of out-of-town shopping and employment centres has also reduced demand for travel into the city centre. There have been no discussions with local operators about bus priority or traffic issues until recently when the Government unveiled a package to local councils to assist bus travel. We are now carrying only 50% of the numbers of bus passengers that we were carrying in 2019 and this is unfortunately typical of bus services across the whole of England and like many others are also having to absorb the large increase in fuel costs. Whilst Yeomans Travel is aware that Herefordshire Council is working on a new Bus Strategy that will involve support for bus services across the County, we are having to act now to protect the future of the company. We are upset that the Council has not even mentioned the reason we are stopping these services in its press release. When we informed them, with the reasons behind it, they offered no assistance or asked what they could do to help other than to ask us to carry on until April. If it is not financially viable, why would we continue until then? There was not even a thank you for stepping in with six weeks’ notice and solving the problems six years ago when First did the same thing only on a bigger scale.

“We had given Herefordshire Council the statutory notice required before withdrawing these bus services and it has already published a tender to operate emergency timetables on these routes, which it also failed to mention. These will now be financially supported. If we had been offered this we would have continued operating these services which would have meant no disruption to services at all and saved a lot of time and effort all round. There are no job losses created by these changes and we will still be operating our subsidised services throughout Herefordshire. We would like to thank our staff for their hard work and passengers for their custom and support over the years but we cannot continue to operate something that is not commercially viable.”

Herefordshire County Council issued a statement saying: “Yeomans has provided notice that it intends to withdraw a large proportion of its commercial services in Hereford from 1 January 2022. The council has held discussions with Yeomans to request that it delays their withdrawal of services until April 2022. This would provide time for the council and local operators to plan and put in place alternatives to ensure continuity of service for people currently reliant on Yeomans bus services. Yeomans has declined this request. The council is holding discussions with other operators regarding replacing the withdrawn services, or putting in place alternatives on a commercial basis so that some continuity of service might be maintained. Due to the very limited timescales involved it is unclear if any operators will have sufficient time to put alternative services in place.”

The council recently submitted an £18.3m funding bid to Department for Transport as part of the national bus strategy and hopes to receive additional funding to invest in buses from April 2022. Following the announcement made by Yeomans, the council has decided to bring forward plans for improvements to bus services and is requesting formal proposals from operators for an improved bus service for Hereford city. Depending on proposals and confirmation of funding from the Government it is hoped that any new services could commence as soon as April 2022.
In the interim, the council said it will be seeking to tender some replacement services which will be in place from January to guarantee the continuation of essential services, including school services, as it progresses permanent proposals for the city network.

Cllr John Harrington, Cabinet member for infrastructure and transport, said: “The timing of the withdrawal of these commercially operated services is of great concern and does not appear to take into account the issues which will be faced by the people who use and rely on these services. We have been meeting with all of our local operators regularly since the beginning of the pandemic and more recently to develop proposals for an improved county network and it is disappointing that only minimum notice has been given for these significant changes. There is great deal of work to do now to try and ensure that we put some temporary services in place but also to seek comprehensive proposals from operators which match our ambitions for a much improved service for the city. We have provided operators with an outline of the elements we think are important including better buses, increased service frequency and operating hours, a strong customer focus and a clear commitment to promote services and increase patronage. I think that that there are operators that share these ambitions and are keen to work in Hereford.”

The last major revision to bus services in the city was in September 2015 when First Bus closed its Hereford depot due to low passengers numbers, the company stating at the time that it was only carrying 3,500 passengers a day.

Yeomans Travel will continue to operate its subsidised bus services. RICHARD SHARMAN