Fears over rural bus services

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It’s good news and bad news for users of Central Bedfordshire’s bus services.

While pensioners 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 last week, councillors were told the changes would save around £470,000.

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

He added: “The council’s changes are likely to result in 50% cuts to bus services in Potton and 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 Chronicle country covers routes including the 85 and 85A, 88, 89, 55 and 90 bus routes through Sandy, Biggleswade and Shefford could now operate at times of highest passenger demand - Monday-Friday 8am-6pm, Saturday 8am-3pm and no Sunday service.

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 proiders 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%.

One guest speaker, Mrs Gibson said at the meeting: “Many people in rural East Bedfordshire are deeply concerned about the cuts to our bus services. Many had no idea there will be changes to the buses.

“Buses are critical for individual lives,” she added.

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.