Suffolk lowest in region for bus journeys despite spike in services
PUBLISHED: 16:30 20 December 2019 | UPDATED: 08:48 23 December 2019
Bus journeys in Suffolk have ranked among the lowest in the country despite a spike in travels, figures show.
Department for Transport data shows the county has bucked its trend of declining journeys in recent years, reporting an increase of 800,000 journeys to 15.3 million for the year ending March 2019.
In the previous financial year the figure stood at just 14.5m - a 3.7m drop when compared to 2015/16.
The past decline has been attributed to a rise in online shopping and budget cuts, but operators say the recent rise has been helped in part by easier ticketing options such as contactless payment.
The figures are calculated from Office for National Statistics population figures for each county.
Despite the rise, Suffolk has the lowest number of journeys in the east of England per person at 20.1 a year.
Essex stands just below 30 at 29.9 a year, or 54.8 million journeys overall. Norfolk is 31.4 journeys a head or 28.4m journeys overall.
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The lowest in the UK was Rutland, with just 400,000 journeys, or 10 journeys per head.
The Suffolk figures, which run up until March this year, do not take into account changes affected by the withdrawal of subsidies in 2019.
Andrew Reid, transport chief at Suffolk County Council, said: "This increase in journeys is welcomed. However, the figures cannot be broken down to show whether the increase is even across the county, or more predominant in built-up areas.
"Suffolk is mainly a rural county with restricted options for transport, which may explain why there are fewer numbers of bus passenger journeys per head of population.
"Our recent cross party policy panel highlighted a number of rural bus routes with low passenger numbers, which have been deemed not financially viable by commercial providers.
"Our focus has been, and must continue to be, finding commercially viable solutions to rural areas that have a strong demand for bus transportation."
Jack Owen, Labour highways spokesman at Suffolk County Council, said: "I've said before that these cuts are causing the slow death of bus travel in the county - the services don't exist anymore or the ones that do are too infrequent, especially in rural areas.
"If the Conservatives want to make good on their commitment to rural communities and tackling the climate emergency, I urge them reconsider their budget for next year, do the right thing and reinvest money in our community bus services."
Chris Speed, head of operations at First Eastern Counties welcomed the figures, adding: "We will continue to work with our partners to improve bus priority on key corridors into and out of our towns and cities along with further investment in improving our fleet provision."