£50,000 kick starts project to improve rural bus services

29 September 2017

Councillors have fired the starting pistol on how bus services could be redesigned to improve the transport links for rural communities – and pledged to put forward up to £50,000 to make it happen.

A motion laid by Cllr Tim Wotherspoon at South Cambridgeshire District Council’s Full Council meeting was supported yesterday (Thursday 28 September) that calls for local public bodies to unite to get to the bottom of the problem and help give people more genuine alternatives to the private car.

Cllr Wotherspoon said at the meeting that “no ideas should be off the table” and reminded councillors that the Bus Service Act 2017 meant that areas with an elected mayor – such as Cambridgeshire – could consider franchising.

He said that franchising could be a game changer as it means that routes can be put out to tender with the winning bidder having a monopoly on it in return for a guaranteed level of service. He said this would include frequency and when the last buses would run until.

To make sure money is invested in the right way, and improvements implemented, an in depth study would be needed to make sure that all the facts were known before any changes were made.

The motion agreed by councillors called for the Council “…to partner with the County Council, the City Council, the Combined Authority and the Greater Cambridge Partnership (in the hope and expectation that they will each be willing to do so) to undertake a comprehensive review of bus services in and around the District and the wider area (and not just to/from Cambridge), in order to assess how significant short- and long-term improvements can be made for the benefit of our residents, employees, employers, students, patients, leisure-travellers and all others; and, to signal it's keenness for this review to take place, and as soon as possible, hereby allocates £50,000 to co-fund such a review.”

Cllr Tim Wotherspoon, South Cambridgeshire District Council’s cabinet member for strategic planning and infrastructure, said: “It is clear to me that we need a full review of bus services to see whether we can use the money that is already subsiding the fares to the full effect. Changes in legislation has also opened up new opportunities to franchise bus services. This route could deliver better services locally. Some of our rural villages have very limited bus services, and in some cases the route takes so long that it means it is not an appealing alternative to jumping in a car – even if you are stuck in traffic.

“We’ve put our money where our mouths are to support our communities in South Cambridgeshire and I’m pleaded to say that other partners have been positive to joining forces.

“As a Council we have been championing rural travel hubs to help give better public transport links and the feedback locally has been incredibly positive. However, we have also heard that there is no point in the hubs if you do not also look at exploring options for improving road passenger transport services too. We’ve listened to our villagers and that’s exactly what we plan to do now.”