Ipswich free shuttle bus saved after borough picks up bill for service

The Labour and trade union campaign failed to persuade the county to save the shuttle bus - but now

The Labour and trade union campaign failed to persuade the county to save the shuttle bus - but now the borough has stepped in. Picture: GREGG BROWN - Credit: Gregg Brown

Ipswich’s free shuttle bus between council offices in Russell Road and the town centre has been saved after the borough agreed to pick up the bill for it.

The free number 38 shuttle bus in Ipswich. Picture: MATT STOTT

The free number 38 shuttle bus in Ipswich. Picture: MATT STOTT - Credit: Archant

The hours of operation will be cut back – and the route will be shorter than at present. But it will provide free transport around the town centre between 11.30am and 2.30pm from Monday to Friday with an Ipswich Buses vehicle.

The borough made a contribution to the operation of the current service which finishes tomorrow after the county council decided to cut its funding. Ipswich council will now sponsor the more limited operation.

A single bus will travel around the town centre in 15 minutes. Instead of going along Tacket Street and Bond Street it will now go up Upper Brook Street in the town centre – a shorter route and one that is likely to be more useful for shoppers.

Borough leader David Ellesmere said his authority decided to continue with the service, which will be rebranded as Route 37, because it was worried about the effect on town centre businesses if workers from the Russell Road area no longer went shopping in the town centre during their lunch hours.

The service will continue to be paid for by the parking fees paid by borough employees working at Grafton House and other council offices. It will cost about £16,500 to run it for three hours a day on weekdays on a trial period until March next year and a further £1,500 on promoting it – similar to what the borough pays at present.

Mr Ellesmere said: “We feel it is good to do this for the businesses in the town centre, and we shall try to get contributions from the county and other organisations whose employees use it to extend the hours. It will be available to anyone, not just council employees.”

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The borough would also seek financial support from Ipswich Central which represents town centre businesses.

Ipswich Central chairman Terry Baxter was delighted at the news: “The borough should be applauded for coming up with this solution which is extremely positive and welcome for the town.”

He said Ipswich Central would look at how well it was used during the eight-month trial and it would then consult its members about whether it was worthwhile contributing to its cost – it is estimated that the annual cost of the service is £8,000 per hour per day.

Suffolk County Council’s cabinet member for Ipswich Paul West said: “We hope this service will complement the efforts we are currently making to encourage the use of Park and Ride services in Ipswich to give people more choice about how they travel into town.”

Shuttle bus linked county council buildings across the town

The free shuttle bus was introduced by Suffolk County Council when it moved to Endeavour House in 2004.

It was paid for by fees paid by employees who parked at the county’s own multi-storey car park – and linked the council’s new head office with its former buildings in St Helen’s Street and elsewhere in the town centre.

But it was always made available to everyone – not just council employees.

Now the county has few employees working elsewhere in the town centre – its other offices are at Landmark House and Phoenix House at Whitehouse which are not served by the bus.

Last month the county announced it would not be renewing the contract with Ipswich Buses, which operates the service, and would switch the contributions to supporting the park and ride service, a decision which sparked anger among users and prompted a debate at last week’s council meeting.