FIRST York will be reducing the frequency of buses on some key city routes – because of a driver shortage.

City councillors were told yesterday that the bus company will be making temporary ‘emergency’ cuts on routes 1, 4, 6 and 12 from Saturday.

A briefing note from the council’s transport team says the worst affected service will be the number 12, which connects Foxwood, Acomb Park, Woodthorpe and Askham Bar with the city centre and then on to Monks Cross.

It will run every hour, rather than every 35 minutes.

The frequency of the number 1 (Chapelfields to Wigginton) will reduce from every 12 to every 15 minutes during the daytime from Monday to Saturday, with minor reductions to early morning and evening journeys.

And the number 4 (Acomb to the city centre) will run every 20 minutes during daytime on Saturday, rather than every 15 minutes.

The briefing note from the council’s transport team says the move has been prompted by ‘a severe shortage of qualified driving staff due to the effects of Covid and Brexit’.

It says the service reductions will be for 3 to 4 weeks initially, but adds that ‘even with First’s recruitment drive, the time taken to train new driving staff makes it likely that staff shortages will persist well into the autumn/winter, so this issue is likely to remain problematic beyond the initial 3-4 week timescale’.

Stephen Fenton, the Lib Dem councillor for Dringhouses & Woodthorpe, has written to First York MD Ian Humphreys asking for an urgent meeting to discuss the situation.

York Press:

Cllr Stephen Fenton Cllr Fenton said: “The number 12 provides a vital service for many residents in Woodthorpe, Acomb Park and Foxwood. Many users of the service are elderly residents, key workers and students who have no realistic alternative means of getting to shops, work or school. And with Woodthorpe’s GP surgery currently shut, the bus is a vital link for residents who are having to travel to the York Medical Group’s surgery in Acomb.

“We all know that the driver shortage, caused by Brexit and Covid, has had a severe impact on many sectors such as logistics and waste collections, and it is good to hear that First are taking steps to recruit new drivers.

“But I am concerned at the suggestion that residents are likely to face a much diminished bus service for many weeks - possibly months.

“At a time when we need to encourage more people to choose sustainable transport options, I fear that the loss of bus services will make this shift even more difficult to achieve and will hit hardest those residents for whom use of a private car just isn’t an option.”

First Bus York bosses said they had "immediate plans" to minimise disruption for customers in response to the growing shortage of bus drivers.   

As part of the plans, they said First Bus York and Unite the Union had agreed improved pay for drivers to strengthen recruitment and retention.

First said there would be temporary frequency reductions on some services to improve reliability whilst maintaining network links. 

Ian Humphreys, managing director of First Bus York, said: “There is a national shortage of labour across the service sector, impacting on the availability of staff and our business here in York is no exception.

"I would like to offer my sincere apologies to our customers who may have been impacted by this and give them my commitment that we are doing all we can to minimise any disruption. 

“To ensure we can maintain connections and to improve reliability, we're making some temporary frequency reductions which we will look to restore as soon as possible.  

 "We have also launched a new retention and recruitment drive with an hourly rate increase to attract new people into the industry and improve pay for our existing drivers to recognise the contribution they have made over the past year and to help keep talent in the company.”

 First Bus York currently has a number of vacancies for non-PCV holders and qualified drivers to expand its team in readiness for anticipated growth in leisure and tourism travel and the return of university students in September.