Free parking trial in Bedford 'not affecting' bus use says council as it calls for operators to explain why services are being cut

“It would be very interesting to get the bus companies to come in and tell us how things are going”
Bedford Bus StationBedford Bus Station
Bedford Bus Station

Bedford Borough Council’s four hour free parking trial at All Hallows car park has not negatively affected public transport usage and air quality, a meeting heard.

A report presented to the Environment Oversight and Scrutiny Committee (March 21) said the use of public transport on all the routes across the borough were recorded and compared with respective months in 2022.

It added that there was a cumulative increase of 476,713 public transport passengers (August to December).

Councillor Charles Royden (Lib Dem, Brickhill) said Full Council (March 20) was told that Stagecoach was reducing the numbers of staff looking after the bus station.

“Now, that’s because they’re not making enough money,” he said.

“And when you tinker with parking charges you have to be really careful to look at the unintended consequences. If people don’t have to pay for parking, they won’t use the buses. We’re seeing our services in public transport cut. We’ve got declining services and that is a concern when we’re talking about free parking as well.”

Matthew D’Archambaud, chief officer transport, highways and engineering, said: “As the report illustrates we’ve not seen that fall off or that decline in bus use during the trial, absolutely not.”

Councillor Royden asked: “If there’s been no decline in bus use, why is Stagecoach cutting their [sic] staff and cutting routes?”

Mr D’Archambaud said: “Stagecoach have [sic] made a commercial decision to leave the offices in the bus station to consolidate at London Road.

“Absolutely it’s a very difficult trading environment for bus companies, but they’re looking to consolidate routes and put different bits and pieces together.

“In terms of making that connection [with] the trial, we’ve certainly not seen that marked impact on buses from the four hours free car parking,” he said.

Councillor Royden said: “It would be very interesting to get the bus companies to come in and tell us how things are going because when I’ve spoken to them they’ve said things are really quite serious, so there’s a mismatch there.”

Stagecoach was approached for a comment, but did not respond at the time of publication.