Bus services to reduce as council seeks to cut £1.2m subsidies

Bus routes in Leighton-Linslade
Bus routes in Leighton-Linslade

Numerous bus services across LBO land could be reduced as Central Beds Council looks to cut back its £1.2m annual subsidy to routes.

Currently the council subsidised 53 % of all buses across the district but says this is “unsustainable”.

While pensioners will hang on to their bus passes, subsidised Sunday services and evening services after 6.30pm could be axed. Subsidised bus routes, which often cover those not profitable for commercial companies, could also be axed after 3pm on Saturdays.

At Central Bedfordshire Council Executive meeting, councillors were told the changes would save around £470,000.

At the meeting Independent Councillor Adam Zerny criticised the changes, referring to the council’s consultation procedure as “a sham”.

He added: “The council’s changes will heavily reduce services for those with disability across Central Beds. The public were strongly opposed to these changes and those responsible for approving this should be ashamed of themselves.”

The subsidised bus service, which in LBO land covers the 36, 48, 49, 67, 69 bus routes through Leighton, Linslade, plus numerous surrounding villages is likely to only operate at times of highest passenger demand in the future: Monday-Friday 8am-6pm, Saturday 8am-3pm and no Sunday service.

As the subsidised routes come to the end of their current contract the council will use a new decision process to evaluate if it will provide any subsidy.

The council said it plans to introduce a clear and transparent tender service process for awarding funding to support Dial-a-ride and encourage voluntary community bus service providers to take on additional services.

But Cllr Zerny said the community groups including South Beds Dial-a-ride, Mid Beds Link-a-ride, The Buzzer and the Ivel Sprinter who will see funding from CBC cut by up to 24%.

In a consultation into the proposals residents said the present bus services were poorly run and needed improving not cutting. They also said rural communities and the elderly would be impacted the most.

The chairman of the council’s Sustainable Communities Overview & Scrutiny Committee (SCO&SC), Cllr Ken Matthews said he was very disappointed the recommendations of the SCO&SC to delay cuts had been ignored, adding: “If this recommendation is not taken up it would be the second unanimous recommendation from Scrutiny that has not found favour and therefore it begs the question is there a point in Scrutiny.”

The new strategy will be put in place from April 2017 and the tendering process for Dial-a-ride services will be opened in December 2016.

Currently 53% of bus services are being subsidised by the council.

Cllr Budge Wells, Deputy Executive Member for Community Service, said: “We received over 1,500 responses to the consultation and have listened to all the feedback.

“This is why we have decided not to change concessionary fares. However we still need a strategy in place so we can ensure that tax payers money is being well spent. Last year £1.2m was spent subsidising bus routes and this is clearly not sustainable.

“Of course, we know how important public transport is, helping people see family and friends, get to shops, work and stay independent.

“That’s why any route we cannot subsidise will go out to community transport providers and we know from talking to people who use these services just how important they are to people.”

The full council will review the decision on November 17.