A major reform of how bus services are subsidised by Cumbria County Council has been approved by the Cabinet.
Around 90% of Cumbria's buses are commercially run - and therefore not subsidised and not part of the review. But the county council spends around £2million a year subsidising bus routes where commercial operators do not run services because they are not profitable.
The paper that has been approved recommends changes to dozens of subsidised routes after a major public consultation has helped build a picture of who uses the county's buses as well as why and where they use them. Some services may see a reduction in the frequency of buses or even be withdrawn all together to ensure that the public's money is spent as wisely as possible in getting the right people to the right places for the right reasons.
As part of the overall review, the Cabinet paper recommends extra investment in some non-scheduled services including the roll-out of the Rural Wheels demand responsive transport service into West Cumbria and rural Barrow. This will not be a replacement for subsidised bus services, but it will bolster passenger transport in these areas and offer a wider range of options for passengers needing to get from A to B for key reasons. The review also recommends improving the frequency of the 104 service between Carlisle and Penrith, investing £30,000 in bus tachographs, and providing funding to support pilot transport initiatives for young people through the Youth Partnership.
The Transforming Passenger Transport review was kickstarted in November 2006, when Cabinet agreed that a set of criteria should be applied to how the county council subsidises its bus services. This was to ensure that passengers could use their bus to access key service centres so they could get to work, do their shopping, visit the doctor or dentist and access other public services.
Analysis of how much it cost Cumbrian taxpayers to support bus services revealed that some buses cost over £24 per passenger per journey to run and were poorly used and not necessarily helping people to access key service centres. The countywide review which has now been conducted was not driven by cost alone, in fact some services that have a high cost per passenger are being retained because the public consultation revealed they are well valued and used by local communities for key reasons.
The questionnaire asked passengers what route they were on, where they got on and off, what time of day they got on the bus, how frequently they used it, why they were travelling (eg work, shopping, education, health care, leisure etc) and whether they had any alternative transport for the journey. It has been vital in helping to decide where the county council should prioritise its reduced resources and assessing how passengers will be affected.
The public consultation involved a major effort from bus operators to help distribute 10,000 questionnaires on a number of subsidised routes in November last year. The county council received 2,000 questionnaire responses and this feedback, along with information gathered at 16 'drop-in' sessions held around the county, has built a comprehensive picture of bus usage in Cumbria.
The review will result in savings of £354,000 - something which has been necessary after Cumbria has suffered a reduction in the amount of money it receives from the Government to support bus services. In 2003/4 the county council received just under £400,000 through the government's Rural Bus Challenge and Urban Bus Challenge schemes, however these schemes have been reduced to £106,000 funding in the current financial year and will be removed all together in the next financial year beginning next month.
Ian Stewart, Cumbria County Council's cabinet member for passenger transport, said:
"An enormous amount of work has been done to get to where we are now. We've gone through the whos, wheres and whys of bus usage with a fine toothcomb and are now trimming away some of the dead wood so that taxpayers' money is being spent in the right places. We simply can't justify running empty buses at enormous expense when alternative options are available to passengers.
"The amount of money we receive from Government to support bus services has gone down so now is the right time for this review of Cumbria's passenger transport. I would love it if more people in the county used their local buses, but the fact of the matter is we need to tailor supply to demand."
The timetable for implementation is as follows (the attached appendix also give specific dates for when each service will change).
- 1 June 2008: Changes to services that are being withdrawn all together (other than West Cumbria)
- 1 July 2008: Changes to services that will see a change in frequency (other than West Cumbria)
- 31 August 2008: Changes to affected services in West Cumbria as part of the general retendering of supported bus services in that area (this will avoid making two changes to services in this area in a short time).
Media enquiries to Gareth Cosslett, News Manager on 01228 606332
Follow the link at the bottom of the page and select Item 13 to view the Cabinet paper and appendix giving details of which services will be affected. In the appendix - Section 1 shows services which did not meet the key criteria but will be retained because reducing them would have a considerable impact; section 2 shows services which did not meet the key criteria but will be retained because reducing them would not save significant amounts and they are well used with no real alternative; section 3 shows services which did not meet the key criteria and will be reduced or removed.
In 2007/8 an average of £4.85 per person in Cumbria was spent on supporting passenger transport.
The main aims of the criteria introduced in the Transforming Passenger Transport review are:
- To provide some level of transport service for all residents of Cumbria.
- To recognise how existing bus services work alongside other options such as Rural Wheels, community bus schemes and voluntary car schemes.
- To concentrate resources on main routes so that passenger numbers can be grown and people can travel by bus between key settlements.
- To allow the council to respond equitably to commercial service withdrawals and requests for new services.
- To recognise the importance of being able to access key functions such as employment, health services, education and shopping needs.