Regional bus services in England that were facing the axe have been given a reprieve after the government announced £130m of funding to keep them going for at least six months.
Services in the north-east and South Yorkshire were at risk amid concern that many more routes could be cut back when Covid grants, which propped up routes during the pandemic, expire at the start of October.
The Department for Transport said on Friday it would provide further support to ensure that services keep running until March 2023.
The additional £130m of funding takes the total amount of pandemic support to £2bn as bus companies wrestle with rising costs and continued low patronage of their services.
The transport secretary, Grant Shapps, said: “At a time when people are worried about rising costs, it’s more important than ever we save these bus routes for the millions who rely on them for work, school and shopping.”
Covid grants for bus companies were introduced to help sustain routes that had lost passengers during the pandemic.
They were extended in the spring for a further six months with £150m to stave off feared widespread cuts to services, but the government had previously warned that no further funding would be available.
Operating costs have escalated by about 20% since the start of the pandemic, according to the Confederation of Public Transport (CPT), while passenger numbers remain 15% down on average countrywide.
Kent county council last month warned it would have to cut dozens of routes, despite receiving £35m in bus service improvement plan funding.
Tyne and Wear’s transport authority, Nexus, said about 100 buses a day had come off the roads since March and that it expected further cuts. In Somerset, FirstGroup told passengers it will be withdrawing additional unviable routes.