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Urgent need for ‘rural connectivity summit’ says Stagecoach

04 October 2022

Stagecoach East has called for a rural connectivity summit to identify new transport solutions across Cambridgeshire and Bedfordshire to help protect the future of local communities.

The summit would bring together elected councillors and transport officials at Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority and other local authority representatives across the two counties, local bus operators, transport users and business groups, said the bus operator.

The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated a multi-million-pound gap between the costs of operating traditional bus links in many rural parts of the region and the low and declining income from fares, said Stagecoach East. Besides existing inflationary pressures, Stagecoach said its fuel costs are set to rise by 20% and utility costs by more than 80% in the months ahead.

Darren Roe, managing director of Stagecoach East, said: “We care about our local communities, and we know how important public transport is to local people. That is why we have pumped millions of pounds of company money into services in Cambridgeshire and Bedfordshire trying to keep these bus links alive, as well as increasing services in areas where people are travelling more.

“But the harsh reality is that in many rural areas the gap between costs and fare income is accelerating. These routes have been on life support for many years, and we need a radical review of how the transport authority and operators work together to keep these communities alive and connected.”

He added: “We need an urgent rural connectivity summit, bringing together all key stakeholders, to have an open and honest debate about the financial realities and what innovative solutions may be possible.

“It is clear the traditional fixed route bus service is no longer a financially viable solution in these rural areas in parts of Cambridgeshire and Bedfordshire. Not only is it becoming unviable for these areas, but it also threatens the long-term sustainability of the wider bus network and the investment we are making in new electric buses to deliver the region’s net zero ambitions and improve people’s health.”

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