CONTROVERSIAL plans to axe both of Worcester’s park and rides have been voted through - as tempers flared at County Hall.
Worcestershire County Council’s Conservative leadership has agreed to scrap both the Perdiswell and Sixways facilities from September, saying it became “impossible” to justify keeping them going.
The move, first revealed by your Worcester News yesterday, is part of a plan to save £1.6 million by downgrading scores of bus routes.
During yesterday’s cabinet meeting opposition councillors turned up to say they were “dismayed” with the announcement, but the Conservatives said both sites had been in steady decline for years.
They also revealed usage of the Perdiswell park and ride, which peaked at 450,000 drivers a year in 2008, has now fallen to 274,935, and on some days just 200 cars are on the site.
The Sixways facility, which goes to Worcestershire Royal Hospital, attracted 66,214 users last year, costing the public purse £1.66p in subsidies per customer.
The cabinet also said the bus cuts, which includes scrapping 13 services and changing 52 so in the main, pick-ups become less frequent, was “the best outcome in the circumstances”.
The council needs to save around £100 million by 2018 due to unprecedented cuts in funding and ageing demographics.
The Perdiswell park and ride, which launched in 2001, was the brainchild of the old Labour-Lib Dem Coalition at County Hall and loses £186,000 a year.
Councillor Sue Askin, from the Lib Dem group, said: “I was so dismayed to read about this, it actually overturns previous county council policy.
“The key to park and ride is promoting it - on Saturday the city was absolutely gridlocked.
“I believe this will make congestion worse - I see it’s recommended that people either get another bus or drive, well in Droitwich Road the 144 is already very busy and the 31C is also subject to a reduced service, it’ll be just once an hour.”
She said she was worried about the park and ride sites, which are leased, being left to “decay” and “mothball”.
But Councillor Simon Geraghty, deputy leader and cabinet member for economy, skills and infrastructure, said: “Our plan is to tackle the (A4440) Southern Link Road, that will do far more for Worcester’s congestion than any park and ride.
“Around 23,500 vehicles use that Perdiswell ‘corridor’ but the average weekly use of the park and ride is eleven hundred cars, so we need some perspective on the congestion debate.
“We have listened to the public, who have told us this is not a priority for them.”
During the counter-arguments Councillor Richard Udall, from the Labour group, said the Southern Link was “slowly becoming the yellow brick road”, claiming Cllr Geraghty “believes it’s the answer for everything”.
“We’ve wasted all that money in the last 10 yearspromoting park and ride, it’s all gone up in smoke,” he said.
Councillor Liz Tucker, Lib Dem group leader, said: “Where has the public transport policy gone?
“At the moment it appears to be in the waste bin basket.”
As the debate swung back and forth Councillor John Campion, who sits in the Tory cabinet, said: “To listen to the opposition councillors, you wouldn’t recognise we’ve had an enormous financial downturn which means we have dramatically less to spend.
“As most of the money we have to spend has dramatically reduced, we have difficult decisions to make.
“While it isn’t easy to make these decisions, it’s the best outcome in the circumstances we find ourselves.”
The bus services subsidised by the council is 20 per cent of the total network, and the original plan was to scrap the entire £3 million yearly spend.
It followed a major public consultation last September which led to a whopping 8,500 responses, the largest ever single collection of feedback to the council.
Of the 97 routes which are under threat only 17 are staying exactly the same, and just 13 will vanish altogether.
A handful will be slightly better come September and the rest be less frequent, with some charging higher fares in order to continue.
Talks are ongoing with operators, with new timetables required to be published by the end of July for a September start.
Sixways park and ride opened back in 2009 at a cost of £5.8 million, and loses around £109,000 a year.
When Perdiswell opened to much fanfare in 2001 it cost £2.5 million.
MP WELCOMES THE NEWS FOR UPTON - BUT BUS USERS ARE ANGRY
BUS users and even angry county council staff contacted your Worcester News yesterday to say they felt the park and rides had not been promoted enough.
Their reaction was in stark contrast to West Worcestershire MP Harriett Baldwin, who is pleased about the outcome for Upton, where several threatened routes have been saved from the chop.
Pensioner Brian Gold, 71, of Tolladine Road, who contacted us after seeing our front page yesterday, said: "I use the Sixways service and it's awful to see what they are doing to it.
"If you need to get to the hospital regularly and don't drive you are stuffed. It is a great service, I just don't get it."
One worker at County Hall, who wanted to remain anonymous, said around 11 drivers at both park and rides are now fearing the chop.
"The staff at the park and rides have given them suggestions, from special 'low fare' days to better advertising, but they don't want to listen," he said.
"It seems like they've been waiting for this day to come for ages, they gave up ages ago."
But Mrs Baldwin says she is delighted after the council agreed to keep routes serving Upton and Hanley Castle High School going.
"Restricting bus connections to Upton and to Hanley Castle High School would have been counter-productive for the economic recovery in the town with its new flood defences," she said.
“The council did the right thing in putting the issue out to consultation and it is clear that they were able to listen to this feedback to the bus companies to try and find a solution.
“This is clear evidence of the council listening to public feedback and working with the private sector to find a solution which reduces subsidies and keeps council tax down."
Councillor John Smith, the cabinet member for highways and transport, said: "The officers have worked tirelessly and I believe we've now got an acceptable solution to what is a very emotive issue."