Warning over cuts to lifeline rural bus routes in Suffolk
PUBLISHED: 13:41 12 February 2019
A warning is going out that threatened cuts to rural bus services in Suffolk could leave some elderly and disabled people stranded.
The proposed county council budget, to be discussed on February 14, includes a reduction of £340,000 in funding for subsidised bus services - this amounts to a cut of around 20% in the £1.7million local bus services budget. The total passenger transport budget is £11.3m.
It is also proposed to save another £100,000 by axing provision of roadside bus timetables.
Green councillor Andrew Stringer, leader of the Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent group, said some communities could be cut off. “Services have already been cut to the bone. We already have a number of villages which have a bus stop, but no bus service.”
He warned one service which is vulnerable to cuts is the 113/114 bus route, run by Mendlesham-based Galloway, which runs from Diss to Ipswich serving Eye, Debenham and Mendlesham – and many other villages.
Thwaite resident Zoe Rimmer relies on the 113 bus service and said she was concerned at the threat of more cuts to the route.
“I would not be very happy if there were more cuts,” she said. “There are only a few buses a day, and already if I want to get back home from Ipswich, the only buses which go through Thwaite are at 1.05pm or 5.05pm.
“The service is important for people who have bad eyesight and can’t drive. Without it I would also not be able to get to the health centre in Mendlesham.”
Back in 2017, a controversial short-lived timetable change saw stops in the villages of Thwaite and Stoke Ash axed completely, while other places on the 113 and 114 routes saw fewer stops.
Services to the villages were restored following passenger protests - but now Mr Stringer thinks this route is likely to face further cuts, leaving more villagers reliant on community transport. “We have been told that service costs several hundred pounds a day,” he said.
Mr Stringer also said buses help the environment by getting people off the roads. “Even if a bus only has 12 people on it, that is probably at least six cars off the roads,” he added.
Labour highways, transport and rural issues spokesman Jack Owen said: “The cuts are going to have an extraordinary impact on people who live in rural areas, disabled and elderly people. That’s their one way to avoid becoming isolated.”
The county council’s Labour group also criticised previous cuts to bus services, after it was revealed the county had seen a 10% fall in bus journeys in one year.
Mr Owen said reduced bus routes and rising ticket prices had been the result of repeated cuts to bus subsidies.
“Rural communities are a crucial part of our wonderful county’s fabric, but their long-term viability has been put under threat with the annual cuts to bus subsidy,” he said.
“Bus services play such an important role in rural life – without them, Suffolk’s residents are denied opportunities in work and education, are left unable to visit friends and family and cannot access shops and other crucial services.
“By cutting bus subsidies, the Tories are removing a lifeline for many people, particularly for those on low incomes, and are making life in rural Suffolk more and more difficult. It is as if they have forgotten about the communities they are supposed to represent.”
Mary Evans, Suffolk County Council’s deputy leader and cabinet member for highways, transport and rural affairs, said: “In 2019/20 the council is proposing to spend less on public transport. I recognise that many Suffolk residents rely on public transport to get to work, school, shops and to feel connected with their communities.
“However, the current level of funding for these services cannot be maintained, so we need to find more innovative ways to help move people around Suffolk at a lower cost to the tax payer.
“We propose to do this by reducing the level of subsidy for those ‘big bus’ services which don’t have enough paying passengers to be commercially viable, and instead, invest in more flexible and responsive community transport schemes.
“I have set up a cross-party policy development panel which is looking at how we prioritise those services which we want to subsidise.”
Bus operator Galloway was contacted but did not wish to comment at present.