Village bus service saved as councillors step in with funding

Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, James Palmer, have said they agreed to step in and pay the

Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, James Palmer, have said they agreed to step in and pay the subsidy to keep the Whippet Coaches X3 Papworth service running until the end of March. - Credit: Archant

A “loss-making” bus route linking Papworth with Cambridge has been spared from the axe after funding was found to keep it running until next March.

South Cambridgeshire District Council and the mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, James Palmer, agreed to step in and pay a £10,000 subsidy to keep the Whippet Coaches X3 Papworth service running until next year.

It had been due to stop running on November 10.

They said it would ‘bridge the gap’ until some proposed changes to bus services, that are due to be put in place from April, can be finalised and announced.

Whippet Coaches had given notice of ceasing the bus service with the Traffic Commissioner, but following the offer of funding, will now continue with the same timetable.

The district council will be using money allocated for local transport initiatives for its contribution towards subsidising the service, while Mr Palmer has also confirmed the combined authority will contribute.

When it was announced that the X3 bus service was due to be cancelled, Heidi Allen, MP for South Cambridgeshire, contacted district council leaders and the mayor’s office to see if a solution could be found.

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Since then more than 2,000 people signed a petition calling on Cambridgeshire County Council to save the Papworth bus service.

Councillor Aidan Van de Weyer, deputy leader of the district council, said: “Lots of organisations and people have been involved in conversations to keep this bus service running, and I’m pleased that we’ve worked together to give people in the village the certainty on its future.

“It would have been a disaster if there had a been a five-month gap in service for people trying to access jobs, education and leisure as they would move away from using public transport and add to congestion on the roads.”

Mr Palmer said: “There was a great deal of concern locally about the future of the X3 route, particularly for those living in Papworth Everard, as well as students, commuters, those with hospital appointments and so on, so it is good news that a solution has been found to retain the service.

“In this instance there was a clear case for stepping in, alongside South Cambridgeshire District Council, to subsidise the route in the short term.

“But I have long said that the bus system we have in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough is not working for people and this is yet more evidence that the current status quo is not sustainable.”

The Combined Authority has commissioned a review into buses which will report in November.

Charlie Hamilton, managing director of Whippet Coaches, said: “As Whippet approaches its 100th anniversary, we are keen to better serve local communities than ever before, but with bus ridership continuing to fall across the region, certain routes inevitably stop being commercially viable.

“Whippet was no longer able to sustain the X3 as the cost of operating the service continued to remain higher than the income from passenger fares. We are thrilled that the elected officials have agreed to financially support the X3, without which the loss-making services would have stopped. This is a clear demonstration of the need for franchising in the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough region, and we are pleased that mayor Palmer’s bus review will consider all options to best serve the local communities that rely so heavily on public transport.”

South Cambridgeshire District Council’s local member for Caxton and Papworth ward, Councillor Mark Howell, said: “Huge thanks to the council executive and combined authority for agreeing to fund the service. A lot of credit must also go to Grace Fisher in Papworth for raising awareness and organising the petition. It is now down to people in the village to use local buses to make sure we continue to have a good service.”

Ms Allen said: “This bus service is a lifeline for Papworth. I am delighted that South Cambridgeshire District Council, mayor James Palmer and Whippet have been able to provide support to keep this vital community asset running.

“Residents made their voices heard in their thousands and I was pleased to instigate discussions between all parties to ensure the stability of Whippet’s X3. Papworth constituents reached out for help and I’m proud to be part of the cross-authority solution.”