Fears as bus routes face axe
RURAL communities across Suffolk face the prospect of losing their bus links as the county council aims to cut its public transport budget by more than half.
Some fairly large market towns like Eye could be left with no buses at all and Halesworth faces being left with just one service.
The county is looking to cut its public transport budget from �4.2million to �1.9m next year.
Such a cut would lead to far deeper cuts than those already under discussion.
Last month the EADT revealed that a list of 60 weekend, evening and “market day” services under review had been sent to parish councils and other interested bodies.
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However, now it has emerged that if all the subsidies to those services were axed, it would only save about �1million from the county’s public transport budget.
A further �1.3m in cuts is being sought – and this could lead to deep cuts throughout the county. The county pays independent operators to run services, and it is thought unlikely many – if any at all – could survive without a subsidy.
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Guy McGregor, county councillor with responsibility for transport, is still negotiating with officials and his cabinet colleagues in an attempt to get more money for public transport.
He said: “As things stand, the situation is looking very difficult. The number of services we are able to subsidise would be seriously cut back and we are looking at all the options.
“But as things stand, the number of services we are able to run will be seriously cut back.”
Mr McGregor’s division includes Eye and he had been made aware of the level of cuts the town could face.
He said: “At the moment Eye is quite well served by buses from Diss that go through Eye and Debenham to Stonham and on to Ipswich and also by services across to Laxfield and Saxmundham station.
“There are also services to Stowmarket and Bury St Edmunds. All of these could be under threat and the county might need to talk to parishes to see if they want to support community transport.
“We all appreciate there are some very difficult decisions that have to be made.”
Dr Wil Gibson, chief executive of Suffolk ACRE, said he was concerned that the level of service cuts proposed would increase isolation in rural areas – especially for young people.
He said: “There are a large number of evening and weekend bus services on this list and they are the kind of services that are used by young people just gaining their independence.
“Those living in rural areas will find their options to get out independently of their parents seriously cut back.”
He acknowledged that some of the routes did not have many passengers – but others provided a vital lifeline for people getting to and from work.
Dr Gibson said: “If the council does go ahead with these reductions then what will happen to the money it saves? We would want to see a substantial investment in community-demand responsive transport and other schemes like the moped scheme to give young people the ability to get to work.”
He also repeated his call for the county to look at allowing the general public to use school bus services.
He said: “The county has to look at every way of getting the most from its transport. If they are saying that adults and schoolchildren cannot travel on the same bus then that really is the nanny state gone mad.”