Use or lose these buses

HUNTINGDONSHIRE is at risk of losing some of its few subsidised bus services because of spiralling costs. Passengers and parish councils are being consulted in a bid to reduce the £2.8million a year Cambridgeshire County Council spends on uneconomic serv

HUNTINGDONSHIRE is at risk of losing some of its few subsidised bus services because of

spiralling costs.

Passengers and parish councils are being consulted in a bid to reduce the £2.8million a year Cambridgeshire County Council spends on uneconomic services, some of which are used by an average of just two passengers per bus, according to county council figures, with passengers subsidised to the tune of up to £8.33 for each journey - in some cases more than a taxi fare.

At risk are the 352/353 Conington and Holme to Peterborough service, the 431 Great Raveley-St Ives bus to and from St Ives's Monday market, the 414 Graveley-St Neots bus, the X14 Huntingdon-Cambridge Science Park - with changes to the linked 436 Somersham-Huntingdon service, the 8 and 9 Papworth-Elsworth-Cambridge bus, but modified to protect students, and the X5 Cambourne-St Neots service's

additional stops at Eltisley and Papworth Everard.

But the county's public transport manager Paul Nelson stressed that the average of two, three or even eight did not reflect individual buses. "Some may have a dozen, while others are completely empty," he told The Hunts Post.

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But operators, who have been able since the 1985 Transport Act to decide on commercial grounds whether or not to run particular bus services, have to fit the vehicles they use in with their other profitable services. So, if they risk diverting a vehicle from a more profitable activity, they want more money from a subsidised bus, however socially desirable.

Cambridgeshire is one of only two areas outside London - until recently it was the only one - in which bus use has been progressively increasing in spite of a declining trend nationally. Other local authorities have been beating a path to Cambridge's Shire Hall to find out what they are doing wrong.

But, faced with huge pressures, particularly from social services cost overruns, on its £511million budget, CCC is looking to save money where it can.

A spokesman said the authority spent more than £2.8 million a year providing bus services on routes that were not commercially viable, despite having no legal duty to and receiving less than half the funding from Government.

"But with new tenders rising by 11 per cent last year - more than four times the rate of inflation - and Government funding rising nationally on average by 2.4 per cent the council, like almost half of county councils, is being forced to change and reduce services.

"Fifteen of the 80 services that the county council provides are being looked at - some of which carry as few as five passengers a day but cost the council £5,228. The 15 have been identified as those which contribute least towards ensuring rural access, provide poorest value for money and are used by the fewest people.

"Wherever possible, the council is looking at different ways of delivering these services, such as through community transport schemes.

"Not only have officers asked for parish councils to have their say and make suggestions, but we shall

also be talking to passengers to see if more tailored services can be used."

If the X14 service, used by an average of seven passengers per bus journey, is cut students at Cambridge Regional College will still be able to use the college bus.

INFORMATION: People can make their views known by ringing 01223 714005. Initial feedback should be received by January 15.

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