You couldn’t make it up. The Shropshire councillor responsible for buses in Shropshire says that the reason that we have a reduced 722 service is that it was becoming too popular.
I cannot find any precedent in Shropshire or elsewhere for a service being cut back because passenger numbers have grown.
The cutbacks fly in the face of Shropshire Council’s Bus Strategy for Shropshire 2011-2016, which says that for towns like Ludlow primary routes should be served every 30 minutes Monday to Saturday between the hours of 7.30am and 6.00pm.
As usual, the council is blaming everything onto the bus operator. That’s contrary to the front page of the South Shropshire Journal on 4 July:
“Minsterley Motors said the reduction in service had nothing to do with the company and it only carried out instructions carried out by Shropshire Council.”
The questions and answers below are from the agenda for next Thursday’s full council meeting. The Q&A session allows members of the public and councillors to raise issues and to challenge the group running our increasingly undemocratic council.
I’ll publish an update on this later in the week.
MR ANDY BODDINGTON will ask the following question:
Ludlow is a historic town heavily dependent on tourism for jobs. It is a town with an elderly population, many of whom rely on public transport to get about.
Our buses are not just used by the elderly and visitors. They are used by pupils and students, workers and shoppers.
After the previous is operator withdrew at the end of January 2014, there was a chaotic scramble to get a replacement service in place, even though he had told the Traffic Commissioners that the 722 service was to terminate on 27 November 2013.
The new town service operated by Minsterley Motors has been welcomed by many in Ludlow. The 701 service has coped well and is often full. The 722 service has been building passenger numbers steadily. But the 722 has to serve the park and ride as well as residents. As passenger numbers have increased, the service has suffered from growing delays due to the time it takes passengers to board and alight.
We were told on June 28th that from on 1 July, the 722 was to be reduced to an hourly service in many parts of the town at very short notice and zero publicity.
Shropshire Council’s Bus Strategy for Shropshire 2011–2016 says that Group 2 market towns, including Ludlow, should have a bus running on primary routes every 30 minutes from Monday to Saturday between the hours of 7.30amand 6.00pm. From 1st July we some of our primary routes we are now told will only run once an hour which is in direct conflict with this policy.
Although the 722 runs hourly on most residential streets, it still serves the park and ride every half an hour. As far as I know, we are the only town in Britain not to have a 15-minute park and ride service. We had a 15-minute service only a year-and-a-half-ago.
My questions are:
1) Did the portfolio holder assess the cost of providing a third bus dedicated to the park & ride in order to alleviate passenger pressure on the 722; and what would have been the cost of this service?
2) Did the portfolio holder assess how the costs of a dedicated park and ride service could be defrayed by income from passengers, for example by charging pass holders a fare, as operates in Shrewsbury?
3) What consultation did the portfolio holder hold with local members, Ludlow Town Council and Ludlow residents about the changes to the 722 service which came into effect on 1 July 2014?
4) What notice was given to the Traffic Commissioners of the change in service on 1 July?
5) Did the Shropshire Council tender for the 722 service that commenced on 1 July in line with best practice in procuring subsidised local bus services?
6) What subsidies will be paid to Ludlow’s 701 and 722 services after 1 July?
MRS CLAIRE WILD, the Portfolio Holder for Highways and Transport, will reply:
My responses are as follows:
1) The Town service in Ludlow pre January 2014 was operated commercially. Whilst this service was operated commercially, the Council and other bodies received numerous complaints regarding poor service, declining passenger confidence and poor timekeeping. In January 2014 the operator decided to de-register this commercial service at short notice. At that point the Council agreed to step and support a subsidised service, operated by Minsterley Motors. Passenger numbers at this time were at a low level because of previous passenger experiences and there would not have been sufficient justification for an additional bus at this time. Due to the success of the new Council subsidised service, passenger numbers have increased substantially and we have asked the bus operator to provide an indicative price for an additional vehicle and we are awaiting their response. Although it needs to be recognised that there are not additional funds available and any extra expenditure would have to found from elsewhere within this public transport budget.
2) The Park [sic] in Ludlow is part of the town service operation, historical and current projected numbers do not suggest that a dedicated Park& Ride service would be viable through income from passengers alone. However, as I have indicated above, we have asked the operator to provide a costing for an additional bus in the existing network.
3) The timetable change from the 1 July 2014 was instigated by the operator as a temporary emergency arrangement, due to the increase in patronage in recent weeks, resulting in part from the successful growth in the service since January 2014. The operator is monitoring the current situation and will either revert to the original timetable if the option of an extra bus is viable or request that the emergency timetable is adopted permanently. It is perhaps helpful to explain that the registration of any subsidised or commercial service is a matter of a legal undertaking between the operator and the regulator of bus services, the Traffic Commissioner, failure to adhere to a registered timetable would place the operator in beach of this agreement. Hence the aforementioned emergency arrangements put in place by the operator.
4) As indicated above, this is a matter between the operator and the Traffic Commissioner
5) As indicated above this is a temporary emergency arrangement instigated by the operator to address timing issues and therefore there is no requirement to tender.
6) The subsidy will remain unchanged (current forecasted net subsidy of £100k pa) during the temporary period, if however, an additional vehicle is deemed appropriate a tender and an amendment to the subsidy will be put in place.