by Peter Homer PLANS for the second phase of a £2m three-year programme of cuts in subsidies for non-commercial bus services in West Sussex - where bus patronage has doubled in the past decade - have been backed by a select committee.
A final decision will be taken soon by Pieter Montyn (Con, Witterings), cabinet member for highways and transport, who stressed financial targets had already been decided and agreed by the county council.
“The commercial network isn’t for us to consider - that is operated by the bus companies,” he told the committee on Wednesday November 30. “What we are looking at is the non-profit making routes.”
There were opportunities for the companies to consider services for which subsidies were being reduced, to see if they could provide the services in a different way.
Proposals for the third and final phase of the £2m cutbacks are due to be considered by the environmental services select committee next year, with a decision on this expected from Mr Montyn in the spring.
The select committee was told a detailed bus user survey was now taking place for phase three.
Members approved a new proposal put forward by Nigel Dennis (LDem, Horsham Hurst) at the meeting urging that improvements to network links between buses, and between buses and trains, should be made a priority to maintain provision for some passenger journeys where subsidised services were being withdrawn.
Responding to questions, Andy Ekinsmyth, service manager for transport commissioning, said: “The amount of effort that has gone into trying to make sure we are not unduly affecting or making things difficult for people has been quite considerable.”
Appropriate provision did not have to be a bus service - it could be any kind of service, perhaps something as simple as a taxi alternative. The county council did not have to pay for the alternative.
Mr Ekinsmyth said that in the Chichester area, bus operators had been able to keep some services, or parts of services, where subsidies had been removed. These were services at the beginning and end of the day.
Mr Dennis said the county needed to devote more attention to squeezing the most out of what was left after the reductions.
“We should try to ensure as many people as possible are within a reasonable walking distance of either a rail station or a surviving bus route,” he added.
At the end of the session, Mr Montyn said: “None of us does this with any pleasure at all. It is something we have to do. There is not always a great deal of choices.
“It’s very difficult and very hard, but part of a much bigger picture of the overall reductions the county has to make in its spending budgets.”
The select committee is also recommending that some bus contracts, in Crawley and Mid Sussex, should be extended to the end of August, 2012.
A report said this will allow remaining services in these areas to be tendered in a revised arrangement to start in September 2012.