Shropshire bus services, including those in Ludlow, will be decimated by the subsidy cuts planned by Shropshire Council

Come to discuss the cuts at the Bus Users Shropshire public meeting tomorrow. Ludlow Assembly Rooms, 1 February, 10.45am.

“Bus routes may be at risk of being scaled back.”

This line in Shropshire Council’s latest budget figures must have been written with the deepest sense of irony. The council is proposing a 91% cut in subsidies for public transport from £1.5 million to just £145,000 by April 2018. When payments for concessionary fares are taken into account, the cuts amount 23% across the board.

At risk of being scaled back? Bus services can barely operate on current subsidies. They are likely to be decimated by these cuts. We are likely to see more towns and villages served only by infrequent community minibuses, not regular scheduled services.

It is rarely possible to run buses in rural areas without public subsidy. We don’t have the numbers of people travelling to make the buses commercially viable, especially over long distances.

With the proposed cuts, many people will no longer be able to travel to work by bus. It will difficult to travel to GP and hospital appointments on time. People will be forced to book taxis or travel by community transport.

We need buses. They are not only a way of getting around our towns and villages. They are a social service. They allow people independent access to work and healthcare. People can shop in their own time and visit friends. Many of us travelling on buses know each other, if only because we meet on the bus. At times in Ludlow, it’s as sociable as sitting around a table in a café.

Shropshire Council’s cabinet has also approved a half a million pound cut in subsidies for public transport it provides directly, from £531,980 in 2016/17 to just £283,980 in 2017/16. This will lead to a reduction in community bus services across the county.

These funding cuts will hit Ludlow hard. In 2015/16, the subsidy for the 701 and 722 town services is estimated at £85,157. This amounts to 59% of the £145,000 public transport subsidy available in 2018/19. We are not going to get more than half the budget. We are more likely to get no money at all.

It is not just the frequency of buses that matters. We are fortunate in Ludlow to have an efficient, friendly and accessible bus service. Only a couple of years ago, Ludlow was served by rattling old buses that had no disabled access and broke down with monotonous familiarity.

One way forward would be for Ludlow Town Council to take over the car parks and the town buses. It could then use the operating profits from the car parks to fund the level of bus service we need in Ludlow. This is not a new idea. It has been talked about in this town for years but there has been no progress.

The budget

Public transport 2016/17 2017/18 2018/19
Concessionary fares £ 3,638,610 £ 3,724,360 £ 3,812,250
Public transport £ 1,515,190 £ 506,430 £ 45,140
Public transport – Council Delivery £ 513,980 £ 283,980 £ 283,980

This post is part of a series on the council’s budget. The budget will be considered, and no doubt agreed, at full council on 25 February. Later that day, council leader Malcolm Pate will come to Ludlow to debate the budget and its consequences at the Ludlow and Clee Local Joint Committee. This is a public meeting that kicks off at 7pm at Elim Church on Smithfield. Please put the date in your diary.