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Worcestershire County Council to cut subsidies for services
NEARLY 90 bus services across Worcestershire are set to be axed - and Worcester’s two park and rides handed to private operators to run scaled-down operations.
A total of 88 services running on 43 routes will be slashed, and park and ride sites at Perdiswell and Sixways will also have their £250,000 yearly council funding removed.
It affects services the length and breadth of the county including Worcester, Malvern, Droitwich and Evesham with evening and weekend pick-ups particularly hit.
Bosses at the council say the £3m costs are too expensive, with one evening route from Evesham to Worcester costing £8.24 per passenger because it is so poorly used.
The council says some of the routes may survive if commercial operators come forward to say they are interested in taking it on with higher prices or reduced pick-ups, in order to make money.
But unless private companies express an interest, they will cease altogether once the subsidies end in September next year.
Critics say “whole communities will be completely cut off” if it goes ahead.
Councillor Richard Udall, who represents St John’s for the city and county council, said: “The proposed scrapping of park and ride services and other bus routes will add at least an extra 1,000 car journeys a day onto Worcester’s streets, choking the city and damaging the economy as people struggle to get to work.
“This is crazy, it will mean the end of public transport in Worcester as we know it - the council is failing in its duty.
“Many residents need a bus to simply gain access to essential services - these cuts will undermine their quality of life, add to their cost of living and damage the local economy.”
The Conservative cabinet is meeting on Thursday to agree to launch a major consultation before anything is decided.
Councillor Simon Geraghty, deputy leader and the cabinet member for economy, skills and infrastructure, said: “The key thing to remember is that this is the start of the process ahead of us and there will be a consultation. “No decisions will be made until then.” “
Only 20 per cent of bus services in Worcestershire are subsisided, 80 per cent are commercial, and this is £3m out of the £30m we need to save next year.”
Councillor Adrian Hardman, county council leader, said: "Over the next four years the authority needs to make savings of around £98m.
"To meet this challenge tough decisions will have to be made - this is an example of such a decision.
"At the moment taxpayers' money plugs gaps in the commercial network, ususally the less popular or less well used services.
"A crucial point to understand with these proposals is that we're not talking about any change to the commercially operated bus services, which make up the vast majority of all buses running on our roads in Worcestershire."
END OF THE ROAD FOR PARK AND RIDE
THE future for Worcester’s two park and ride sites are under threat - with the facilities at Perdiswell and Sixways due to lose around £250,000 of public funding.
The services have dwindled in popularity in recent years and under the proposed changes, for the first time since they were built, would get no taxpayers’ support to operate.
That means the onus will fall onto private operators to keep them going, which is likely to be in reduced form or see higher fares to make up for the subsidies going.
Councillor Simon Geraghty, deputy leader and cabinet member for economy, skills and infrastructure, said: “The question we are asking is, how can we take the subsidy out and make sure the services continue? “
It should be run at no cost to the taxpayer, so are there operators who can run it in a different way, and do service levels need to be altered.
“Both of these services should be capable of being run commercially - the ultimate aim is no cost to taxpayers, that’s the vision.”
The Droitwich Road, Perdiswell site opened in 2001 at a cost of £2.5m, and heads towards the city centre between Monday and Saturday, with a 450-space car park available.
Back in 2008/09 it peaked when 450,783 journeys were made in a year, but it fell to 332,165 in 2012/13 and papers for the Tory cabinet this Thursday suggest the latest annual figure is 274,935.
At Sixways, where there are 700 car parking spaces for a Monday to Friday service heading to Worcestershire Royal Hospital, just 63,956 journeys were made last year.
It opened in 2009 with £5.8m of taxpayers’ cash.
The Perdiswell park and ride costs the public 68p per journey, while the Sixways one is subsidised to the tune of £1.66p per trip.
It comes just three months after the county council confirmed it had abandoned old proposals to build more services around Worcestershire in areas like Claines, Lower Broadheath and St Peter’s.
Councillor Peter McDonald, opposition Labour group leader, said: “This will be devastating to communities which rely on the services daily, such as just going to the shops, visiting friends, attending hospital appointments and visiting loved ones in hospital.
“Normal day to day activities people take for granted will be taken away.”
HERE’S JUST FIVE OF THE SERVICES DUE FOR THE CHOP....
* The 551 Evesham-Pershore-Worcester evening service, ran by Diamond Bus is the county’s most expensive service, costing taxpayers a staggering £8.24 per passenger.
The council says just 1,747 trips have been made on it over the last year, just a handful daily for a Monday to Friday operation.
But its removal means there will be no late evening service from Evesham to Worcester, with the 551 the only option from 7.45pm onwards.
* A major route due for change is the 31A and 31C Worcester Orbital to Sixways, which is ran by First Bus.
It was used 450,250 times last year, particularly for rugby fans heading to Worcester Warriors games, but is still subsidised by 50p per trip.
Under the proposals that subsidy will go, which is certain to mean some kind of changes to the service.
* The 350 Redditch to Worcester service was used 31,595 times last year, cost taxpayers £1.45 per trip, and is also due for the axe.
The removal would be a major blow, as it not only takes people to the Alexandra Hospital, it also takes in swathes of rural areas on a Monday to Saturday timetable.
It will mean residents in rural patches like Broughton Hackett and Inkberrow no longer have easy access, direct routes to the hospital.
* The 382 Worcester-Eckington-Pershore evening service, ran by First Bus, is also set for the chop after being used just 5,650 times over the last year.
It cost taxpayers £5.38 per trip, making it among the county’s most expensive and least popular routes.
But a removal altogether would also hit people in Defford and Norton, who rely on it to get home from the city after 6pm.
* The 354 Holt Health to Redditch service is also due to be axed, which will affect people in Ombersley, Droitwich, Hanbury and Feckenham.
It was used just 6,237 over the last year, costing taxpayers £3.91 per trip, and has never been popular.
Because it is ran entirely in-house by the council’s own fleet services, it is unlikely to be picked up by any commercial operator.
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