Fury as bus fares soar

ONE of the main bus operators in Suffolk sparked fury last night after revealing fare prices would be hiked by at least 10% as of next week.First Eastern Counties' announced yesterday that starting on most of its services from Sunday single ticket prices below £1 will increase by 10p and those over £1 by 20p.

ONE of the main bus operators in Suffolk sparked fury last night after revealing fare prices would be hiked by at least 10% as of next week.

First Eastern Counties' announced yesterday that starting on most of its services from Sunday single ticket prices below £1 will increase by 10p and those over £1 by 20p.

A statement from the under-fire bus company also revealed that return fares, First day, First week and all other season tickets are currently under review but for the moment will remain unchanged.

Last night Keith Andrews, managing director for First Eastern Counties, which runs services in Ipswich, Bury St Edmunds and Lowestoft, said the decision to increase ticket prices had been taken as a “last resort” because of the increase in global fuel prices.


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However the move has sparked criticism from a number of concerned parties who believe the hike is yet more evidence that Suffolk pensioners and those on fixed incomes who regularly use the bus service receive a raw deal.

Jeremy Pembroke, leader of Suffolk County Council, said: “This is yet another thing for elderly people on fixed incomes to take on board. I am very conscious at the moment that there are a number of rises which are facing pensioners not least the bus fares but also increases on electricity and gas prices and the cost of fuel.

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“Suffolk County Council is very aware that for those people who are retired and living on a fixed income life is extremely difficult and these fare rises will make it more so. That is why we are absolutely determined to keep the council tax increase as low as possible.”

In September First Eastern Counties hit the headlines when around half of their 740 drivers staged a week-long walkout over pay.

The industrial action, which has now been resolved, caused huge disruption with many passengers having to find alternative means of transport to get to their destinations.

Jack Thain, the chairman of the Suffolk Pensioners, said of the fare increase: “They should have at least waited until the New Year. I am very unhappy they have decided to do this now, at Christmas time, because this is when we are most dependent on our pensions.

“Although a 10% increase may not seem a lot for an individual journey it quickly mounts up if you have to use the bus every day, which many pensioners do because they cannot afford or do not want to have to run a car.”

Meanwhile David Ruffley, Tory MP for Bury St Edmunds, warned that many passengers were losing patience with the bus company.

He said: “What sort of Christmas present is this for the already hard pressed and long suffering pensioners of Suffolk who will find the price rises difficult to stomach?

“I have heard from bus users in Suffolk and within my constituency who all say they have had enough with the inadequate service First provide. Many people have already been saying to me that the company are drinking in the last chance saloon. They say hasn't the time come to see if another private company could do a better job? This must be the question we have to ask when we hear of these hikes.”

But last night Mr Andrews said although the bus company tried to limit the rises it was left with no alternative because of the increase in global fuel prices, which has seen the price of crude oil soar by around 50% in the last year.

He said: “We try hard to absorb any increases in costs and in so doing keep our fares as low as possible. However, the worldwide increase in the price of fuel has pushed our costs to a point where, regrettably, we have no alternative but to increase fares. I appreciate our buses are a vital link for many of our customers, and any decision to increase fares is always taken as a last resort.”

A spokesperson for First continued: “First's last across the board increase was in January 2005, however a season ticket review was carried out during the summer which revised some discount levels. This was not an across the board increase and some fares went up, some fares went down and some saw no change whatsoever.”

Anybody who has any questions or concerns on the new fare prices can contact First customer services on 08456 020121.

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