On 12 June, the Cabinet agreed the following:
Local Bus Services
- To not implement the reduction or removal of services as consulted, but where the consultation feedback has highlighted genuine efficiencies or cost pressures those will be focussed upon.
- To amend the Council’s 2019/20 budget and reduce the planned reduction in the public transport budget from £405,000 to £180,000.
Future Public Transport Services
- To commence a review of the current operation and future opportunities for, improved public transport services across Shropshire, including reviewing concessionary travel and the opportunities for bus franchising.
The Cabinet also recommended increases on some Shrewsbury park and ride charges but deferred other increases until they have been reviewed.
After nearly 1,000 responses to its consultation, the council’s cabinet is to reconsider the planned bus cuts. Papers to be considered next Wednesday accept planned cuts to budget subsides by £405,000 will not now be achieved. The cabinet is being asked to approve cuts of £180,000 to be realised through making changes to current routes. The only details of those changes provided at this stage are to the Shrewsbury park and ride service.
The consultation highlighted that buses provide a vital service and play a very important role in reducing traffic congestion, the numbers of vehicles on our roads and pollution, supporting local businesses and tackling the increasing problems of loneliness and isolation.
The council will commence a review of current operations and future opportunities for bus travel in the county. Any changes recommended will come in from January 2020. But there will be efficiency gains before then. These might reduce the frequency of the Ludlow town 701 service.
I think the council is taking the right approach. But much will depend on the details. I would not like to see the frequency of the 701 service reduced. There may be other efficiencies elsewhere in the county which would be equally unpalatable.
The council currently allocates £1,809,955 a year to support bus routes that not commercially viable, along with £258,456 a year to support the Shrewsbury park & ride service.
Around 80% of journeys in Shropshire are made by people holding concessionary permits. This is a government mandated scheme paid for by the council. In 2018/19, concessionary fares Shropshire Council cost £3,498,570. Concessionary fares are not compulsory for park and ride services. Concessionary fares not only provide free transport for those that qualify, they subsidise commercially run bus services (those that run with a direct subsidy) because bus operators concentrate on routes with a high number of concessionary passengers.
The three Shrewsbury park and ride services carry 617,000 passengers a year. In 2008/09, the year before the unitary council was established, they carried around 1.2 million passengers. No explanation for this drastic fall in numbers has been given.
If the cabinet agrees, the fares will rise from £1.60 to £2.00 return. Group tickets will be scrapped. This will save £50,000 a year. Concessionary fares will also be scrapped. These changes come in force on 1 September.
The cabinet is also being recommended to approve “a review of the current operation and future opportunities for improved public transport services across Shropshire, including reviewing concessionary travel and the opportunities for bus franchising.” The review will “ensure that any service changes will ameliorate impact on the travelling public, especially where limited or no alternative travel options are available.” Any changes will be introduced in January 2020 and will be subject to further public consultation. The council says it will ensure that changes have minimal impact on the travelling public, especially where limited or no alternative travel options are available. It will ensure that ensure that “services are not removed but reduced where there is an alternative available.”
This review means we may not know the fate of the 701 bus service until the end of the year. The council has proposed reducing the service frequency from every 30 minutes to every 45 minutes. Thirty people responded to the consultation about this proposal.
Beyond this, the council is looking at developing a mobility strategy:
“A transport vision and strategy for Shropshire that encapsulates all forms of transport, including public transport and Park & Ride… In addition to already stated priorities of the Council this strategy will also take cognisance of the emerging Rural and Communities Strategy and Climate Emergency resolution of Full Council.”
The council says it recognises the importance of interurban routes in supporting the economic growth of market towns.
The consultation received 955 responses. Two-thirds of those were concerned with social isolation, many of them concerned from Bishop’s Castle (101 responses on social isolation), Bridgnorth (124) and Broseley. The equality impact assessment produced by the council recognises that the impact of the cuts initially proposed would be “medium negative for social inclusion and for age, with particular attention around rural isolation” and medium negative for disability. Respondents said they were concerned that rural communities would become isolated, people would not be able shop or to get to medical appointments, and this would particularly affect elderly non-drivers. Students would also be affected.
The equality assessment says:
“Older people are generally more reliant on public transport to access essential services and facilities than those of working age. Older people also tend to require greater access to health services. This can be particularly problematic in remote rural areas such as Shropshire where there may be limited or no public transport coverage. These issues can be further compounded by a lack of awareness in availability of transport schemes, such as community transport and dial-a-ride schemes. Older people can also encounter physical barriers, such as trip hazards from uneven surfaces, crossing busy roads, and difficulties boarding and alighting buses and using steps at railway station. In this regard, there are also potential medium negative impacts for people with disabilities as well.”