The nature of the bumpy ride ahead for the bus industry is indicated by Stagecoach East’s recent announcement of revisions to its bus network in Cambridgeshire. On 23 routes where there is some evidence of increased use, services will continue although the operational costs are “still challenging even with central Government funding”. Enhancements have been made on 12 routes according to the operator.
The revised network, from 30 October, will exclude 18 routes where passenger numbers have fallen significantly. They have been supported by pandemic-related funding but passenger numbers are consistently too low to cover operational costs.
Stagecoach East declined to provide LTT with any further information on the underlying demand and commercial performance trends which its data and analysis had revealed.
In a local backlash, there were calls for local government to come to the rescue, but the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority said it had been put in an unacceptable position by Stagecoach’s decisions.
Stagecoach subsequently called for a rural connectivity summit which would identify new transport solutions across Cambridgeshire and Bedfordshire to help protect the future of local communities. The summit would bring together local government representatives, bus operators, transport users and business groups, though Stagecoach made clear in only envisaged being participant, rather than leading the discussion..
Darren Roe, Stagecoach East’s managing director, said: “We cannot turn back the clock. Instead, we need to focus our collective energy on developing alternative solutions to meet the new reality and it is inevitable that these will need to be underpinned by public funding support.”
Former minister Matt Hancock, MP for West Suffolk, said Stagecoach had announced proposals to cut vital services and subsequently called for a rural connectivity summit. “Is this a joke?” he asked, and called on Stagecoach to reverse the proposed cuts. He said he had spoken to Roe and was working with the local authority on alternatives to the cuts.
Councillors in Bristol have meanwhile reacted to First bus withdrawals by calling on the metro mayor to step in.
However, local government is poorly placed to fund replacements for services which were previously commercial, while also sustaining existing tendered services. High inflation has diminished local authorities’ spending power in most areas, including education and other services which they have a statutory duty to maintain whilst they do not have a statutory duty to provide scheduled bus services.
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