Fares to rise as Cambs looks to extend busway services

NORTH Huntingdonshire could get direct links to the St Ives-Cambridge guided busway as a result of a �1.7million Government grant to Cambridgeshire County Council.

But there was less good news for bus passengers this week as principal operator Stagecoach said rising costs and an increase of nearly three-quarters in fuel tax on buses meant fares would have to rise by an average of five percent.

The increase, from this coming Sunday, puts the price of a return ticket from Huntingdonshire to Cambridge – the company’s Cambridgeshire Dayrider Plus – up by 30p to �5.70. The equivalent weekly ticket, the Megarider Plus, will go up from �21.50 to �22.50. Both tickets continue to provide unlimited travel on the company’s buses in the county during their validity.

Stagecoach said the Government’s 20 per cent cut in Bus Service Operators’ Grant from April 1, combined with the planned 3p fuel duty rise, would increase fuel tax on its bus passengers in England by 74 per cent.

“In contrast, trains pay virtually no tax on their fuel and planes pay none at all,” the company complained. Other costs across the industry rose by five per cent in 2011.

Andy Campbell, managing director of Stagecoach East, said: “These damaging Government cuts and tax hike, combined with rising costs, are having a direct impact on bus fares and services across England.

“We share the frustration of our passengers. Along with businesses, they are already being squeezed by higher bills and energy prices.”

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Cambridgeshire County Council said the Government cash, won in a joint bid with some district councils and with operators Stagecoach and Whippet, could lead to busway services being extended to Ramsey, Peterborough and Chatteris, with spin-off improvements for local rural services.

There will also be improvements to make journeys to and from Cambridge quicker and more reliable, and to reduce pollution in the city centre.

Cambridgeshire already bucks the national trend for increasing bus patronage and new measures would see up to 518,000 more passenger journeys over the two years of the bid, a spokesman said.

County Councillor Steve Criswell from Somersham, cabinet member for community infrastructure, said: “This is great news for Cambridgeshire and reflects the county council’s drive to improve all forms of transport. The busway is highly successful and we welcome Stagecoach East’s willingness to experiment with new linking services.

“This has always been one of the added bonuses of the busway that additional services from rural and remote parts of the county could benefit. If successful, these could create further transport links or provide even more commercial incentive for further bus services.”

The Liberal Democrats welcomed the cash injection, provided from the Better Bus Area Fund. Transport spokesman Susan van de Ven said the money should improve accessibility and bus journey times.

“Cambridgeshire urgently needs rural bus routes to be developed. The Tory-run Cambridgeshire County Council has made a mistake in deciding to withdraw rather than enhance its support of so many bus routes, and I hope the announcement from Government will serve as a strong reminder that bus service in all its forms needs support.”