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Image credit: Shropshire Star. Protesters march through Shrewsbury
Shropshire Council has made a u-turn in proposed bus cuts following public pressure.
It comes after the council proposed £405,000 from its public transport budget, however now they are looking at saving just £180,000 by making existing services more effective and cost-efficient.
Proposals to cut £50,000 for Shrewsbury Park & Ride remain in place.
In March 2019, the council ran a six-week consultation into £450,000 cuts to bus services which attracted a huge response, with one Shropshire Councillor estimating there were more than 1,000 responses.
The council’s revised strategy for 2019/20 initially included a £405,000 reduction to the budget for public transport and £50,000 for Shrewsbury Park & Ride.
Therefore the £225,000 of the £405,000 budget reduction within the council’s financial strategy won’t be achieved and will be subject to revised proposals.
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Council ‘Taking the Right Approach’
Andy Boddington, Councillor for Ludlow North previously spoke about his concerns over the cuts. He said that Shropshire Council had ‘failed to assess the impact’ of the cuts on people, communities and the environment.
With the new proposals in place, he thinks that while the council are going in the right direction, everything very much depends on the details.
“I think the council is taking the right approach. But much will depend on the details. I would not like to see the frequency of the 701 service reduced. There may be other efficiencies elsewhere in the county which would be equally unpalatable.”
“The council currently allocates £1,809,955 a year to support bus routes that not commercially viable, along with £258,456 a year to support the Shrewsbury park & ride service.”
“Around 80% of journeys in Shropshire are made by people holding concessionary permits. This is a government-mandated scheme paid for by the council. In 2018/19, concessionary fares Shropshire Council cost £3,498,570. Concessionary fares are not compulsory for park and ride services.
“Concessionary fares not only provide free transport for those that qualify, they subsidise commercially run bus services (those that run with a direct subsidy) because bus operators concentrate on routes with a high number of concessionary passengers.”
“The three Shrewsbury park and ride services carry 617,000 passengers a year. In 2008/09, the year before the unitary council was established, they carried around 1.2 million passengers. No explanation for this drastic fall in numbers has been given.”
Better Transport System Needed to Reduce Pollution.
Coordinator of the South Shropshire Green Party, Hilary Wendt previously spoke about the cuts and the impact on the aim to reduce pollution, saying that a transport system fit for the 21st Century is needed.
"We need a transport system fit for the 21st Century that supports our local economy. Many people in high unemployment areas in Shropshire live relatively near areas where there are job vacancies but have no easy way to get there.
“Too, the small businesses that are the lifeblood of our local economy, and which benefit our least well off areas and market towns, need us to invest in ensuring good quality transport links, of which buses are key.
"Shropshire Council needs to prioritise public transport to give the greatest number of people a viable option of leaving their car at home and using forms of transport that don’t further damage the environment, cause air pollution and congestion.
“Rather than building more environmentally damaging roads, Shropshire Council's scarce officer resources and local authority funds should be focused on transport projects that benefit everyone in Shropshire and which form part of the solution to our climate emergency."
Poor Rural Bus Service ‘not an inevitability’
John Whitelegg has said in his report on Shropshire rural buses for Foundation of Integrated Transport that there is no reason why rural bus services in some parts of England have to be inferior to that of Sweden, Germany and Switzerland.
In his report, he compared Shropshire’s bus service to three other countries.
The research found that rural public transport in Switzerland, Germany and Sweden there was a pattern of an integrated bus and local rail services that is unheard of in the UK.
Sparsely populated rural areas in all three countries have 10 or more buses each day and these facilitate connections with the equivalent of our market towns and onward links by rail to the main urban centres.
The report said: “In all 3 countries a great deal of effort is devoted to bus to bus and bus to train connections and a regional transport authority delivers an overall connected and integrated service with adequate public funds to maintain rural community viability.”
It went on to say that there are some very clear lessons to be made from these three case studies and that a serious upgrade is needed in the way we manage rural public transport in England.
The report concluded that: “There is no such thing as a “rural transport problem” and it is in fact very easy indeed to provide high quality rural public transport in a way that supports vibrant, healthy, economically successful rural communities and contributes to keeping young people in those communities.”
“This is what happens in Switzerland, Germany and Sweden and there is no reason at all why it cannot happen in England. There is a very real need to pose a rather fundamental question at all levels of government and to all political parties and all councillors and MPs “What is the reason why rural residents in England should have a poor quality public transport service when high quality is routinely delivered in Switzerland, Germany and Sweden”?”
Fewer Bus Journeys Being Taken in Shropshire
New data has shown that there are fewer bus journeys being taken in Shropshire, according to latest figures from the Department for Transport.
There were 4.3 million bus journeys taken in Shropshire between April 2017 and March 2018, 300,000 fewer than the previous year.
In Telford and Wrekin, there were also 400,000 fewer journeys, where 3.9 million bus passenger trips took place between April 2017 and March last year.
Shropshire Council is also looking at developing a mobility strategy, recognising the importance of interurban routes in supporting the growth of market towns.
“A transport vision and strategy for Shropshire that encapsulates all forms of transport, including public transport and Park & Ride… In addition to already stated priorities of the Council this strategy will also take cognisance of the emerging Rural and Communities Strategy and Climate Emergency resolution of Full Council.”