On Tuesday, Shropshire Council announced a consultation on huge cuts in bus services. For Ludlow, the headline is that the 701 town bus serving the east side of town will be cut back from a half hour service to a 45-minute service. There are no plans for changes to the 722 park and ride service. No cuts are planned to the out of town routes from Ludlow to Kidderminster (292) and to Knighton (740). The Minsterley 435 service to Shrewsbury and the Lugg 490 to Leominster and Hereford do not receive direct subsidy from Shropshire Council so are unaffected by these proposals.
The bottom line is that the council wants to cut more than £400,000 from its bus budget. There has been no assessment of the impact of these cuts on how people get to medical services, shops, friends and work. This consultation shows that Shropshire Council has abandoned any ambitions for sustainable transport.
Do Shropshire Councillors travel by bus? Not to my knowledge. They all go by car. The leader of Shropshire Council is even chauffeured in a Shrewsbury Council car when he is moonlighting in his other job as Mayor of Shrewsbury.
Because county decision makers travel by car, most have little clue about how important buses are to many people. Buses are a social service which ensures people can get to medical appointments, to shops and to meet their friends. But all Shropshire Council seems to pay attention to is numbers on a spreadsheet.
I asked Tracey Huffer for her comments on the reduction to 701 services:
“I am appalled by this. We councillors have had no notice of the details. The council has not discussed its plans with local members. The first we knew about it was when the council launched its consultation.
“The Ludlow 701 town service is vitally important to our town. It allows a lot of people who are vulnerable or on low incomes to get to town centre services. They can go to the shops and GP surgeries. Many people also hop on a bus to see their friends.
“If the frequency of service is reduced, people will be less willing to use the buses. People will drive in, if they can only to find there is nowhere to park. Others will be not travel at all. That will increase their isolation.
“This is a busy bus route and I don’t know why Shropshire Council has singled it out for cuts. And how long before they reduce the service to hourly?
“Every penny spent on buses helps improve wellbeing of Shropshire residents. It is about time that Shropshire Council recognised that.”
Going further north, Shropshire Council has made a truly shocking admission about Shrewsbury Park & Ride:
“Numbers have fallen from c. 1.2 million in 2008/9 to c. 635,000 in 2017/18 and this fall in passenger trips could reduce further should these proposals be introduced.”
There cannot be any other park and ride service in the country that has seen park and ride passenger numbers fall at a rate of more than 60,000 a year. Most park and rides services are expanding to decongest overcrowded town centre streets and improve air quality. But Shropshire Council has managed to halve usage, increasing congestion and air pollution on Smithfield Road and around the rail station. The growing congestion conveniently boosts its case for the environmentally destructive and expensive North West Relief Road. It has spent millions on the so-called Shrewsbury Integrated Transport Package, none of which has gone towards improving the park and ride service and driving up passenger numbers.
Back to rural Shropshire. Bishop’s Castle is currently served by five buses a day. If the council goes through with its plans, that will be cut back to just two buses – presumably only the morning and afternoon school runs which connect with feeder minibuses across and beyond the Hope Valley area. Clun will lose access to dial a ride services on Saturday.
Bridgnorth town services will be reduced to hourly, though I think that that is the current frequency. There will be no buses between Bridgnorth and Telford on Saturdays. The daily service between Bridgnorth and Shrewsbury will be reduced from one an hour to one every two hours. Oswestry buses are cut back hard. The village service through Bosmere Heath, Baschurch and Kinnerley will go from one an hour to one every two hours.
This consultation shows that Shropshire Council has abandoned any ambitions for sustainable transport. It admits that passenger numbers on Shrewsbury park and ride buses have halved. There cannot be another park and ride service in the country that has performed so dismally as Shrewsbury’s.
In Ludlow, the only way we can increase footfall in the town centre is by improving our second-class park and ride service. But if Shropshire Council has already given up on Shrewsbury park and ride, what hope is there for Ludlow having a first-class service?
Buses should not be seen as a drain on council finances. They are a benefit to the wellbeing of people in Shropshire and promoting wellbeing is surely the most important job for the council.