Essex: Councillors urged to ‘consider alternatives’ before cutting bus services
- Credit: Peter Lawson/Eastnews Press Agen
Transport chiefs at Essex County Council have been urged to “consider all alternatives” before cutting any bus services following the launch of a public consultation.
The local authority is holding the twelve-week process to look at how it provides financial support to bus services and has admitted that it is likely funding will be reduced in the future.
But concerns have been raised that any cuts will hit those dependent on public transport and “vulnerable” people on low incomes.
The council currently pays around £8million for nearly 200 bus services across the county, including routes in and around Tendring, Colchester, Braintree and Maldon.
Council-funded services generally run in the evenings, on Sundays or in rural locations and make up about 15% of the bus network in the county, the other 85% of journeys being run by commercial operators.
The council says maintaining expenditure at this level in the current financial climate is unsustainable and it is looking at where savings can be made.
Head of highways Rodney Bass, said: “We need to review the bus strategy to make sure that the bus services we provide meet the essential travel needs of residents, offer the best value for taxpayers and can be sustained.
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“Given the challenging economic climate, we must be realistic and accept that it is likely that not all needs across the county can be met and that the funding available in the coming years will be reduced.”
But chairman of Colchester Pensioners Action Group, Barbara Williamson, said any reduction in services could hit elderly people living in rural areas who have no other way of getting into the town.
She said: ”I know of several people who rely totally on buses and it would be a real hardship if they stopped.
“The council should consider all alternatives and rather than give a choice on whether a service will run or not, think about solutions such as putting a minibus on some routes. There needs to be some innovative solutions.”
Deputy leader of the Labour group at Essex County Council, Ivan Henderson, said he feared any cuts would have a negative effect on the “vulnerable in society”.
He said: “We are starting to look at this consultation and where the impact is going to fall but I suspect it is the same old story - that the people who will suffer the most will be the vulnerable people in society.
“I urge councillors to think very carefully about these people before they cut any services.”