REVEALED: Details of the bus services under threat as county council takes the axe to subsidies
HUGE swathes of Cambridgeshire are at risk of losing some bus services as the county council prepares to axe subsidies.
Over the next four years the council says subsidies to more than 50 services could be removed leaving operators either to absorb the costs themselves or drop them altogether.
Andy Campbell, managing director of Stagecoach which operates around 20 of the threatened services, says he was surprised when the council came to him and told him the subsidies would be removed.
“I was somewhat surprised, because I would have thought it would have been better to try and figure out what money there is, and see what could be provided,” he said.
“Telling us what they’re going to do over the next four years, not actually telling us when they’re going doesn’t help us to plan.”
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Mr Campbell said it also “doesn’t help the people in those areas as to whether they’re going to have a bus next year, the year after, or the year after that.”
The county council accepts the proposed phasing out of subsidised bus services is likely to have “a significant impact on rural communities and potentially affect people travelling on Sundays and evenings.”
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Although the council has yet to release details of precise service times, they have released a list of the affected routes.
Nick Dawe, Local Government Shared Services finance director for Cambridgeshire, said: “People unable to find alternative forms of transport, including some people with disabilities, older people and the less affluent may be disproportionately affected.
“There could potentially be reduced access to employment and education, which could affect young people.”
Mr Dawe promised that communities will be consulted before services are affected and talks with operators were under way see if they might run currently subsidised services without subsidies.
The council was also keen to encourage community transport operators to develop their services and with some additional financial support “there is potential for more flexible services to be provided.”
But he added: “The impact on sectors of the community is potential significant”.
County councillor Steve Tierney said: “I do not doubt that the people who use them value them and that some people will have a hard time without them.
“But unlike our schools and care services they are a luxury we can no longer afford.
“We simply cannot maintain services which cost so much for so few in quite the same way during this difficult economic climate. Instead we are putting a large budget aside for community transport.”
Mr Campbell believes the future of bus services is going to remain difficult since subsidies often mean “the difference between us being able to operate and cover our costs and running at a loss.”
And with the Office of Fair Trading insisting that services do not run at a loss “we don’t have a choice. And the worst thing is that the Government is also reducing the amount of money that we get for concessionary fares.”
Mr Campbell said that in the past the company would get 70p in the pound towards concessionary passes, this would now be reduced to 45p in the pound
“So we will have to make cuts and changes to commercial services as well,” he added.
Lib Dem county councillor Kevin Wilkins, spokesman for Adult Care, said: “The idea of taking away elderly people’s privileges while continuing to spend �1m a year on PR takes the breath away.
“If the council spent a bit less on glossy publications and gold-plated executive salaries, they would not need to consider this option. I urge them to take it off the table at once.”