Cuts put rural bus routes under threat

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CUTTING a fuel grant to bus services will ‘inevitably’ mean higher prices for passengers and a possible further reduction in services.

The bosses of the two main bus providers in Grantham, Centrebus and Stagecoach, have spoken out about the impact that the 20 per cent cut to the Bus Service Operators Grant, provided by the Department for Transport, will have from April next year.

Stagecoach commercial director David Skepper estimates that the cut will increase the business costs overall by around two per cent.

He added: “It will be difficult to absorb any more costs.

“It’s inevitable that we would have to pass it on to the people who travel with us.

“We wouldn’t like to see any more cuts to the service but I can’t guarantee that won’t be the case.”

In April this year Lincolnshire County Council reduced the subsidy it gives to the bus companies, resulting in a reduction in the services operating in and around town.

Mr Skepper said: “We have already had to make reductions in the service between Grantham and Lincoln in the evening as a result of the county council funding cuts.

“The 20 per cent cut to the grant will have an impact on the rural buses because of the miles involved.”

Centrebus commercial director David Shelley agreed that price increases and more service changes were inevitable.

When the first funding cuts were made to the bus service by the county council, four of the Centrebus services in Grantham were reduced.

Mr Shelley said: “Because we were proactive at that stage I think the impact on the cuts to date has been minimised on our network in Grantham.

“The only other forthcoming one which will impact on our customers is the withdrawal from end of last term of service 101, a bus mainly for school children between Foston, Barrowby and Grantham.”

Ian Brothwell, Lyn Turton, Eileen Sloper and Cindy Ferguson all use the bus service from Grantham to Bottesford regularly.

Lyn is disabled and does not drive so the bus is her only way to get to work in town.

She said: “If they take more buses away I’m stuck. It’s expensive already and it’s putting other people off using the buses.”

Cindy added: “If you live in a village what do you do if you can’t drive? We’ve already lost buses.”

MP for Grantham Nick Boles said that he would look into individual cases of hardship caused by bus service cutbacks, but that he accepts that cuts have to be made.

He said: “It’s very difficult.

“While I’m keen to look into any specific cases, I’m not going to criticise them for making some cuts to grants for bus transport, because I’m afraid there have to be savings made.”

Lincolnshire County Council says no one will be left without transport.

Principal transport officer Paul Harvey said: “Unfortunately we’re not in a position to give bus companies more money at this time as we’ve needed to manage a budget shortfall of £125 million over four years.

“This has led to a reduction in the bus subsidy budget of £1 million, which has meant we can no longer subsidise as many services. We have been working with operators to try and keep the most popular services, for example that people may use to travel to work. Communities will not be left without, and where services have been reduced people can use our nationally accredited CallConnect service, which responds to demand. People can call 0845 234 3344 and book this bus service up to a week in advance.”

l Are you worried by an increase in bus fares? What problems will it cause you? Call us on 01476 562291.