Thursday, 2 February 2012

Bus Cuts 'Comparable To Beeching', says Tory Councillor

It seems that cuts to bus services are a bit like buses themselves. You wait for one to come along and....

I said a few days ago that we could expect more tales of anguish around proposed cuts to bus services. And sure enough, I came across no less than three more examples today.

In one of the most colourful descriptions I've heard so far, one local Tory councillor in South Somerset has compared proposed cuts to rural bus subsidies to the Beeching railway cuts of the 1960's.

Somerset County Council needs to reduce its public transport budget by approximately £1.5 million in April and is considering cutting a number of routes to achieve the savings. But it's a situation which has prompted the councillor to issue a warning about how the cuts might affect not just subsidised services but previously profitable bus services, too.

"The cuts to more rural routes could make the rest of the network unprofitable like the Beeching cuts did with railway lines,” warns Councillor Sue Osborne. "I don't know if the council realise the black hole they are opening up.”

A Lib Dem colleague of hers is also angry and is happy to break the party line to prove it.

"I am going against the Conservative county council but I was elected to represent the people of this ward and they want these services to stay,” says Kim Turner, Liberal Democrat councillor for Ilminster.

"I will work with anyone, regardless of political party, to best serve my ward."

Meanwhile, in a response typical of today's internet-savvy teenagers, one annoyed teenager in Leicester has gone to the trouble of setting up an internet group to protest at the bus services in his city and county.

Bruce Astill, 19, said he launched Protest Against Poor Services in Leicester because buses have been unreliable for a long time.

His online group is aimed at getting people to share stories about their worst experiences of using buses in Leicester and Leicestershire and has so far attracted more than 640 members since he launched it just over a month ago. An online petition he has started has so far been signed by 37 people.

It seems a fitting response, as young people are just as vulnerable as the elderly to fare increases and service cuts. In fact, Bruce's younger counterparts seem to be firmly in the sights of his Conservative-controlled county council who have announced their intentions to axe subsidies for school buses for students aged 16 and over, as well as those attending faith schools.

The council also wants to scrap free travel for disabled passengers before 9.30am and for both the over-60s and disabled people after 11pm from Monday to Friday. And it doesn't end there. The county council is also planning to withdraw transport vouchers worth £33 a year for residents with disabilities who cannot use conventional buses, and for residents who live over 800 metres from an hourly bus service.

Leicestershire County Council has said that these cuts would contribute some £1.3m a year towards the £74m savings it needs to make over the coming four years.

Mind you, I'm not sure that will come as any great relief to their residents...

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