School bus project launched on rural routes – here’s where it’s happening
- Credit: RACHEL EDGE
A pilot project using school buses for rural communities during off-peak hours is to be introduced in the New Year, following concerns over bus provision in Suffolk.
Suffolk County Council confirmed it was assessing routes where school buses could be used between the morning drop off and the afternoon pick-up, and could be used to help address much-sought-after travel for rural areas.
The council confirmed at last week's scrutiny committee it was investigating such a scheme, and has now announced a pilot will run between Sudbury and Stowmarket.
According to travel officers, the scheme will run as a pre-book service via a series of villages from Sudbury to Cockfield, before connecting with Sudbury services.
A council spokesman said: "Suffolk County Council are looking into alternative solutions for areas where there is a demand for access to public transport but no bus service currently available.
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"One solution which is being explored is the use of eight-seater vehicles currently being utilised for educational transport.
"An initial pilot scheme operating between Sudbury and Stowmarket is set to be implemented in the new year.
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"This pre-book only service will be comprised of vehicles that are currently on the road after transporting students to school in Stowmarket, travelling from Sudbury.
"The taxi-buses will return via an assortment of villages to Cockfield. Here the service will connect with Chambers 753 bus, between Sudbury and Bury St Edmunds, then returning to Sudbury - with the reverse happening in the afternoon.
"The success of the pilot scheme will provide an indication of whether this is a solution that can be implemented in other areas across the county."
It follows a money-saving scheme announced in June where the council subsidy of bus services was axed on 23 of the least popular routes.
Jack Owen, Labour spokesman for highways said: "We know that many communities across Suffolk lack any sort of bus service, forcing people to drive or leaving them cut off and isolated entirely.
"If this initiative seeks to provide public transport where bus routes are non-existent or poor, that can only be a good thing.
"However, it is only a pilot scheme and will not solve the systemic problem of poor bus links in Suffolk, an issue underlined by the embarrassing fact that our county has the lowest number of bus journeys in the region.
"I really hope this pilot is successful and we can roll out the project across the county, putting school buses to good use during the day and giving rural communities a lifeline.
"However, tinkering around the edges will not be enough - we need wholesale changes and proper investment to deliver a bus network that is fit for purpose."