The council is paying more than £4 million a year for “empty buses” in the hope that people return to using services once they feel safe.
Labour councillor Daniel Yates asked Brighton and Hove City Council officials to keep track of the cost.
The council had effectively been paying for nothing by maintaining services during the coronavirus pandemic, he said.
Councillor Yates raised the issue as a report to the council’s Policy and Resource Committee said that the council was paying £360,000 a month for journeys that were not happening.
The money is part of the £890,000 monthly cost of concessionary bus travel for elderly and disabled people.
But bus companies were running only 60 per cent of the concessionary travel journeys that were being funded.
And the council was paying more than twice as much for concessionary travel as similar councils, the committee was told.
It paid £42 a head for concessionary fares and supported buses compared with councils serving places such as Bristol, Coventry, Portsmouth, Southampton and York which paid £19 a head.
The annual budget for concessionary bus fares is £10.6 million in Brighton and Hove and is funded from surplus parking income.
Councillor Yates said: “I appreciate this is an amount we have been instructed to continue to give bus companies by the government in order to maintain capacity within the bus network – even though it’s capacity that currently isn’t being used, and in some cases not being provided.
“In fact, it’s an ‘empty bus’ subsidy we are providing for the value of £4.3 million a year.
“It doesn’t appear as an overspend. It’s within our existing budget. That’s the cost of covid.”
The council’s acting finance chief Nigel Manvell said that the government, through the Cabinet Office, has asked councils to support contractors, including school meal contractors, Freedom Leisure and bus companies.
Mr Manvell said that only the bus companies required support now because passenger numbers had not fully recovered – and he agreed to track the information for future reports on council finances.
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