Commuters penalised by new park and ride fees

JPCT 110511 Hop Oast Park and Ride, Horsham -photo by steve cobb
JPCT 110511 Hop Oast Park and Ride, Horsham -photo by steve cobb

THE COST of using Horsham’s Hop Oast Park & Ride facility is rising steeply for Horsham workers commuting to the town each day.

The scheme was originally introduced as a low-cost option for town centre workers and to free up spaces in town centre car parks for short-stay shoppers.

But users have been speaking out this week about a new pay arrangement which will penalise those commuting to Horsham, charging them a pound more to park and ride each day, without a season ticket.

“You’re getting ripped off,” said Peter Bubble, with another commuter adding: “It’s ridiculous. I’m quite annoyed.”

Coming into force from April 14, the changes made by Metrobus and precipitated by the removal of a £144,000 subsidy from Horsham District Council, will especially adversely affect workers who car share.

At the moment users pay £2 to park each day, with the ticket also serving as a free return bus fare for up to five people to the town centre and back. However, under the new arrangements those wishing to travel before 9am in order to get to work must pay £1.50 each way per person.

One person will therefore have to pay £3 per day to park and ride to work in Horsham town centre, and a car load of workers will be paying £15 in total from April 14.

“I think it’s too much,” said Sandra Caldeiera, aged 24, of Crawley. “It’s gone up so much since I started parking here because it used to be £1 in March 2010, then it went up to £2 not long after. I see a lot of people that come in together and car share and they will be affected worst.”

Rebecca Marsh, 19 of Southwater agreed. She told the County Times: “It’s a bad idea because people that do share lifts are trying to cut down emissions and costs and this change is not encouraging them to do that.

“It’s rubbish how it catches workers out. It’s not fair on them because it’s too expensive and you’ve still got to pay petrol to get here.”

Meanwhile Amanda Chace, 40, of Worthing, said: “Per person is a bit too much and goes against views of cutting emissions and being green. We’re suppose to be encouraging car shares.”

However, Metrobus this week has downplayed the overall impact, saying that surveys reveal ‘very few users before 9am are car sharing’.

“Regular users can save considerable amounts by purchasing a season ticket with the key smartcard, with new 1, 4 & 13 week season tickets being introduced,” said a spokesperson, adding: “For example, someone buying a 13-week ticket would pay just £1.62 per weekday to park and travel on the bus both ways, which is actually less than the £2 per day that is currently being paid. This also compares very favourably with the £10 cost of parking in Swan Walk for a day.”

But some commuters we spoke to were not impressed with the option of a season ticket and the Metrobus smart key. Peter Bubble called them ‘ludicrous’ because they have expiry dates.

“I don’t want it to expire I think it’s ludicrous. You may buy a four-week key card but be away for one of the weeks.

“If you had a key card that didn’t expire, and one that you can top up instead, I would be inclined to buy it.”

For those travelling after 9am the fare to park and ride for up to five people will continue to be £2.

A spokesperson for Metrobus explained that the withdrawal of subsidy by HDC had necessitated the new pay structure before 9am.

They said: “The withdrawal of financial support for the service means that some of the shortfall needs to be made up by revisions to pricing, although we are also working hard to encourage greater usage through better marketing, better signage, more buses and easier payments onbus or online.”

Metrobus claimed that if, following the withdrawal of the £144,000 subsidy, it had not agreed to take on the service commercially ‘the site would have been closed and all users would have been forced to use more expensive car parks in the town centre’.

Roger Paterson (Con, Pulborough and Coldwaltham) HDC’s cabinet member for the local economy, said: “The new Park & Ride agreement with MetroBus provides excellent value for both park and riders and rate payers alike.

“While MetroBus has introduced a new and more competitive fare structure, they have also improved their offering with an additional hourly bus service - making five buses per hour – and, in cooperation with the council, will enhance shelter and payment systems.

“Although MetroBus will run Hop Oast Park & Ride as a commercial service without subsidy, Horsham District Council will continue to provide the car park and its maintenance free of charge.

“This is a win-win situation,” added Mr Paterson. “MetroBus will offer an improved and lower cost parking service while ratepayers will benefit from significant savings.”