Fresh review of sponsored bus services in Suffolk
A new system to grade Suffolk’s sponsored bus routes is to be set up to help transport bosses determine future funding for services.
Forty-four buses are currently subsidised by Suffolk County Council to the tune of £1.7million but the authority needs to make £340,000 of savings.
Currently, Suffolk County Council has no methodology in place to assess whether the bus routes it sponsors are cost-effective, prompting the formation of a cross-party task group.
The proposals, which were approved by the council's cabinet on Tuesday, will now score each service based on six criteria.
Those will be: the average single passenger journeys per day; percentage using a concessions bus pass; number of entitled students using the route; the type of service and other alternatives available; links to other commercial services in that area and average cost per passenger to the county.
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Mary Evans, Conservative cabinet member for highways, said: "The council spends money on supporting a range of bus services that are not commercially viable, so it is important that we have a consistent method for evaluating these to ensure that decisions are made in a robust and transparent way.
"Up until now the criteria was based on the amount of subsidy per passenger and local knowledge.
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"We realised we needed a much more thorough way of assessing the criteria for funding services which is why I set up a cross-party panel.
"The methodology will enable us to score each subsidised route against specific criteria, which will ensure that we make informed decisions around increased or decreased levels of financial support."
"This year the budget available to deliver subsidised registered local bus services is being reduced so we will use the methodology to review these services."
"It is not possible to say which particular communities or localities would be affected until the new methodology is applied.
"We will work with bus operators and partners to find other sources of funding to support services.
"We are increasing our support to community transport to make sure Suffolk's residents have access to transport because we recognise the importance of these services."
The new system is raising fresh questions as to whether cuts could be on the way, although it is understood some services may be in a position to be run entirely by commercial operators.
Labour group leader Sarah Adams said: "We are supportive of the proposals which came out of the cross party PDP and believe they are a pragmatic step forward.
"However, I'll be really clear that we will strongly oppose any move to reduce spending on local bus services which are a lifeline for so many people in our county.
"We have already seen relentless cuts to bus subsidies - 60% in just 10 years - with rural communities especially paying the price of increased costs and fewer routes."