West Suffolk: Bus company claims there are not enough passengers to make rural routes viable
A Suffolk bus company has defended a move to reduce services on some of its routes in the west of the county.
Beestons Ltd, which has its headquarters in Hadleigh, has reduced the frequency of buses to and from Glemsford and Great Cornard.
The decision has angered some older people living in the villages and earlier this year, 500 of them signed a petition against proposed bus service cuts.
Among them is Glemsford retiree Barbara Howe, who also suffers from serious health problems. She told the EADT: “From September 2, Beestons are changing their timetables so that the 236 Sudbury to Haverhill bus will now run every two hours instead of every hour, and the Cornard bus will run hourly instead of every half hour.
“The 10.20am bus from Glemsford to Sudbury on a Thursday is usually packed because everyone wants to get into town for market day, so when they cut the 11.20 bus, that situation will worsen.
“Villages like ours have already lost so many of our bus services and these are a lifeline to many people like myself, who use them to get to the doctors or the chemist. It’s already impossible to have a social life because so many evening and weekend services have been cut and some people rely on the buses to get to work.”
Although most of the Beestons fleet has two decks, Ms Howe said this did not help elderly villagers. She added: “A lot of the people who use the service are disabled or have health issues and many have problems getting up to the top deck. Glemsford is a growing village and there are so many new houses being built. We should be increasing bus services rather than reducing them.”
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But according to Beestons Ltd spokesman David Burrows, the company needs to reassess routes regularly to keep services viable.
He said: “All we have done is sharpen up the service to make it pay. We regularly monitor our ticket machines to give us data to see how viable each route is, but the harsh truth is that we constantly have to balance the books in an economy that has still not recovered. On average, we ferry about 150 passengers per day, which is around 12.2 people per trip and on a bus that only does eight miles to the gallon – and with the price of fuel still rising – you have to be very determined to run it. People also don’t see the hidden costs. For instance, our buses usually lose at least one windscreen per year and these cost upwards of £1,800 each to replace.
“In truth, we need between 200 and 300 people per day to make it completely viable and we are getting nowhere near that. Clearly, the 500 people who signed the petition are not using the buses.”
Beestons has installed double decks on to its fleet of vehicles so they can accommodate up to 80 people plus standing room. Mr Burrows said the county school runs had also impacted on the timetables.
He added: “The schools are a bit of a swaying factor in that they all come out at the same time. A lot of older people don’t like sharing the bus with school kids but on school trips most of the buses are half empty. Some of the changes have been necessary because of low reimbursement we receive from the various concessionary bus passes.”
Beestons’ bus journeys in the middle of the day used to stop at Glemsford, but the company has now extended the route to Haverhill.