North East transport chiefs have hinted a major overhaul of bus routes could be on the cards.
Social distancing restrictions and increased home working have seen passenger numbers slashed to roughly half of what they were before the coronavirus pandemic.
The fall in use has seen operators increase their reliance on public subsidies to keep services running.
But bosses have suggested changes to lifestyles and working habits could prompt a shift in the journeys on offer.
“There are going to be some tough challenges ahead, in terms of service provision versus funding versus changing public need,” said Martijn Gilbert, chairman of North East Bus Operators, an industry body.
“A public transport network is a mass mover of people.
“If we had a bus going to a business park with 100 people on it and now there’s only going to be four people then that service might not be the most efficient use of resources.”
Mr Gilbert, who is also managing director at bus operator Go North East, was speaking at a meeting of the North East Joint Transport Committee’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee.
The COVID-19 lockdown saw the number of bus travellers slump by up to 90 per cent across County Durham, Northumberland and Tyne and Wear.
The return of schools and previous easing of coronavirus restrictions had seen passenger numbers recover to about 55 per cent of pre-pandemic levels, according to the latest indications.
But congestion and increased traffic from ‘lower occupancy vehicles’, as well as a renewed rise in infection rates, pose further challenges to bus services.
And in the meantime operators remain unable to fill vehicles to their previous capacity and reliant on handouts from the government and the region’s councils.
He added: “The funding is a particular challenge and we don’t want it for any longer than is necessary.
“But it is necessary if we’re going to be able to sustain 100 per cent of services with half the revenue coming in.
“Controls through social distancing mean we can’t have more than half the revenue coming in anyway because we can’t fit more people on the buses.”