A number of bus services to continue despite funding challenge
A number of bus services in the county will continue to run despite a reduction in public funding coming into effect this autumn.
Since announcing last month that 23 routes were at risk, Suffolk County Council has been working with operators and communities to find solutions to the funding challenge. The council is pleased to confirm that permanent solutions have been found for two services and a further five will continue to run until at least the end of March 2020. Conversations are also being taken forward about a further four routes that the council is hopeful can continue to be served in some way.
The 971 service from Hadleigh to Colchester has been taken on by the operator Beestons who will deliver the service on a commercial basis.
The early morning M33 and M34 service that takes a circular route around Bury St Edmunds, will also continue. This is due to section 106 funding which has been obtained by the council.
The council has secured £24,000 in extra grant money to extend the 387, 456, 112, 120 and 461 services until the end of next March. Operators, local communities and councillors in the areas served by these routes are actively working to find alternatives to keep the services running. This extension allows them time to find permanent solutions.
Suffolk County Council is also confident that although notice is being served on the 375, 483 and 62, solutions can be found and is working alongside communities, bus users and operators to look at options such as local community transport, taxi-buses and alternative funding.
Alternative transport provision is also being sought for rural villages on the 108 route from Lowestoft to James Paget Hospital. Following conversations with residents options such as community transport or taxi buses are being considered. The provision would enable residents in the villages along the 108 route to take community to transport Gunton where they would then be able to board buses going in a range of directions
Councillor Mary Evans, cabinet member for Highways, Transport and Rural Issues said:
“I am really pleased that we have managed to continue these services which were at risk, and I am hope we can find alternatives for the other routes.
“This demonstrates Suffolk County Council’s commitment to working with operators and communities. With a decreasing budget, we have had to make a tough decision this year to withdraw subsidy but today’s news highlights how local and commercial options can be found to enable services to run without public money.
“I recognise how important passenger transport is in Suffolk, and I remain committed to ensuring that we provide the best travel network that we possibly can."
Conversations with Suffolk’s bus operators began in June as it was announced that 23 services would have their public subsidy removed. This was part of a move to save £340,000 from the authority’s passenger transport budget.
Out of the 211 routes currently operating throughout Suffolk 61 are subsidised with public money. The 23 services were identified through a new fair and thorough prioritisation mechanism which was developed by a cross party policy development panel. The criteria takes into account passenger numbers, subsidy per single ticket and integration with other services. It also considers the number of entitled students using the service and percentage of journeys made by concessionary pass holders.
In 2017/18 the 23 services were responsible for 107,624 single journeys out of a total of 14.9 million journeys taken across the county. This means that the services are responsible for only 0.7% of journeys per year. On some of these services the council is currently paying £12.64 per single ticket which equates to over £25 per round trip.
Unfortunately, notice will now be served on the affected routes where alternative provision is not in place. As it stands these contracts will end by 2 November 2019, however the council remain open to conversations with operators and communities to see if solutions can be found.
A full list of the affected routes and solutions is published on the Suffolk on Board website.