Suffolk MP calls for school transport 'solution' as bus services come under threat
PUBLISHED: 10:43 07 July 2019 | UPDATED: 10:43 07 July 2019
JAMES CARTLIDGE MP
One Suffolk MP is demanding the "absolutely essential" school bus services in his area are protected as the county council prepare to withdraw subsidies from rural services.
Suffolk County Council announced on June 18 that the county could lose 23 bus services as it is withdrawing the subsidy it provides to bus companies to run them - saving the council around £340,000. Another 38 services will continue to be subsidised.
Discussions are now underway to see if the bus companies will continue these services or if other arrangements could be made to keep rural communities connected with public transport.
Eleven bus services in the South Suffolk constituency of James Cartlidge MP are under threat, with some described as "absolutely essential" to schoolchildren.
Following a meeting with county councillor Mary Evans, cabinet member for transport, and other county council officers at Sudbury town hall on June 28, Mr Catlidge said: "It appears that my constituents will be disproportionately affected by these changes, especially as many of the routes run in our most remote areas.
"A particular concern is where routes are used for education access, given the context of changes to school transport.
"For example route 971, which runs from Hadleigh to schools in Colchester, is an absolutely essential service many post-16 students and I was clear that a solution for this route must be found.
"I have been assured that the Council are working with the provider to ensure that this route is maintained.
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The council have used a new formula to assess which bus routes are most important, factoring in the cost per passenger, which for some routes is as much as introduced a new framework last month to assess how viable the 61 bus services it subsidises are. The council has looked at passenger numbers and the cost to the public purse of subsidising each journey.
Two buses running to Hadleigh - the 94A and the 796 - cost the council more than £12 per single ticket.
Mr Cartlidge added: "While I am concerned about the potential impact of these changes, I think we also have to accept that a number of these routes are not sustainable in their current form.
"To have diesel buses driving around the countryside with a scattering of people on board is clearly a waste of resource.
"I am keen to see these routes maintained where possible as I understand that they serve some of our most vulnerable and isolated residents.
"With some forward-thinking it may be possible to provide a more versatile, financially sustainable and environmentally-friendly service."
Mrs Evans said: "Based on the criteria which includes measures such as passenger numbers and integration with other routes, funding for the 11 services in South Suffolk is no longer financially viable."
"We are currently in conversations with Beestons who operate the 971 and they are actively looking to continue this service commercially.
"I recognise that this is an important service for students attending post 16 education in Colchester and indeed the university, so I am dedicated to ensuring that this service is maintained.
"We are continuing conversations with bus operators and partners to explore other solutions and sources of funding to support services, including those in South Suffolk."