Cambs bus revolution could deliver scores of mini-franchises

A REVOLUTION in community transport across Cambridgeshire could lead to the creation of scores of Wimpy-bus micro-businesses.

Potentially at stakes are the county council’s �20million-a-year budget for statutory transport for children and social services, along with smaller budgets from local authorities and the NHS.

A pilot scheme could be in operation before the end of the year. If it proved successful, it could become the template for a series of local franchises over the next few years as bus subsidies are withdrawn, believes the council’s new leader-elect, Councillor Nick Clarke.

“We have a certain number of statutory responsibilities for moving people and we are also providing bus subsidies that are not targeted to vulnerable people,” he told The Hunts Post yesterday (Tuesday).

“We want to have some centralised co-ordinating function surrounded by a bunch of micro-franchises that would be run under the correct licences. There’s a number of issues we still have to work through, but we have a number of existing organisations that move people around, with vehicles that are idle for large parts of the day.

“We believes there’s a model that would stack up, particularly with micro-businesses, and would allow enterprise to come to the fore. So we need to know what the vehicles are and how they move around the county.

“It has to be underpinned by a mix of fulfilling our statutory responsibilities and also through entrepreneurs and community-based projects. If you use a vehicle to take children to school in the mornings and patients to surgeries in the afternoons, why not use them to take people into Cambridge in the evenings?”

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Mini-fleets would be unlikely to be single minibuses, but fleets of three could be viable, Cllr Clarke believes.

“It’s a repeatable model that you see in many industries. With a fair wind, it’s something we could be able to share with other counties.

“We shall be seeking advice from the experts, including franchising experts. The target is to have a prototype up and running before the end of the year to see whether it works or not. I’m quite excited about this.”

A council spokesman explained the county’s dilemma thus: “Currently the council spends millions of pounds on subsidising large buses that are often empty and sometimes buses and even local mini-buses are left idle through the day between pick-ups.

“This means there is plenty of capacity not only for improvements to be made but to create jobs and increase economic prosperity.

“The new scheme being developed could plough millions of pounds into the hands of local residents and businesses and co-ordinate transport across organisations to provide a much better service.”