Rural bus services under threat

RURAL bus routes look set to be the next victim of county budget cuts.

Today (Wednesday) a select committee backed the second phase of a plan to withdraw £2m of bus service subsidies.

The subsidies encourage bus companies to give coverage to remote or rural areas that might otherwise have no public transport.

Andy Ekinsmyth, West Sussex County Council service manager for transport commissioning, told the mmeting that Chichester area bus operators had lost their subsidies, but still been able to keep

some of their services running.

The surviving services are usually those which only run at the beginning and end of the day.

Nigel Dennis (Lib Dem, Horsham Hurst) 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, Pieter Montyn (Con, Witterings), cabinet member for highways and transport, 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 third and final phase of the £2m cutback plan is due to be considered by the environmental services select committee next year, with a decision on this expected from Mr Montyn in the spring.

Caroline Collins, of the Save the 86 Bus campaign, pointed out that the Government had promised that front line services would not disappear as a result of austerity measures.

She said in a statement: “Apparently a bus which gets our children to school, our neighbours to work, our elderly to friends, family and hospital is not considered ‘front line’.

“Meanwhile, £1 billion is being provided to set up the Green Investment Bank which will, ‘encourage significant additional investment in green infrastructure’, complementing our weekly bin collections at a cost of £250 million.”

For the latest news on the next phase of cuts, see this week’s County Times.