Anger as Stagecoach East announces 21 bus route closures in Cambridgeshire
There was growing anger this week after Stagecoach East announced that a host of bus routes into Cambridge are to be axed, leaving thousands of people with no way of travelling to work, school, college or hospital appointments.
Stagecoach has announced the list of routes set to be slashed because it claims they are no longer commercially viable.
Shocked commuters have hit out at the move which affects journeys from St Ives and Huntingdon, from Trumpington to Addenbrooke’s Hospital, and villages between Newmarket and Cambridge and on routes in Bedfordshire, bringing the total of route cancellations to 21, with 18 being around Cambridge.
A petition launched by concerned villager Jemma Fortey and already signed by more than 800 people says: “Stagecoach bus company has announced they intend on cancelling bus services numbers 11 & 12, connecting Cambridge to Ely via Newmarket (return) and Cambridge to Bury St Edmunds (return) in October 2022.
Not only will this have a huge impact on children and young adults attending Cambridge colleges, West Suffolk college it shall also remove any public services from any villages between allowing us access to train services. This cannot be allowed to happen, people will become even more isolated, people will struggle to get to work, the elderly may lose their only form of transport to get from A-b. The government want us to use buses and reduce pollution and traffic in main city’s and this will undoubtedly cause more cars to travel into Cambridge, which coincidentally they are considering a £5 levy for congestion.”
Another petition, set up by Andy Heron, warns many children travelling from Abbey in Cambridge will no longer be able to reach school in Bottisham Village College when the number 11 bus route is withdrawn.
He says: “There are countless 11-16 year old children living in the Abbey area of Cambridge who rely on the number 11 service to get to and from Bottisham Village College each morning and afternoon.
“If the bus service is cancelled then all those children will have no way of travelling to school except for cycling, which is a long way and not a safe journey for children to be making alone, particularly in the dark and rain during winter.”
The routes to be cut, which are mainly in East Cambridgeshire, Fenland and Huntingdonshire areas, have been announced as numbers 11/X11, 12, 18, 25, 39, 915, V1, V2, V3, V4, V5, 22, 30, 35, 66; and Peterborough: 23, 24, 29.
Darren Roe, Stagecoach East Managing Director, said: “We have designed a new core sustainable bus network with the aim of growing services over the long term. The new network is responding to local demand, and as part of that, we’re pleased to announce a range of enhancements for people in Cambridgeshire.
“We are grateful for the Government recovery funding which has been allocated to rebuild services that are sustainable for the long term. This unfortunately does mean making some tough decisions that reflect the reality of how services are being used after the pandemic.
“Overall, services are operating at around 75 per cent of pre-pandemic passenger levels, with concessionary travel for older people dropping to as low as 55 per cent. Inflation, rising fuel and energy bills are also all having an impact on our costs. In such tough economic conditions, just like local authorities, bus companies are having to make very difficult decisions.
“The 18 affected routes have been losing £12 per passenger per journey on average. Some of them, where numbers have dropped as low as around only 50 customers per week, are costing up to £80 per passenger. We cannot continue to operate services which we know are no longer financially viable. That would not be right for taxpayers or our passengers.
“The more people who switch to buses, the stronger our networks will be. It can generate vital investment for more electric vehicles, helps keep fares low and ultimately will help us to expand the bus network to meet new demand. We remain focused on working closely with our local authority partners to make the best use of passenger fares and public investment in services, to deliver the widest and most sustainable network we can for local communities.”
While the government has offered a final one-off additional period of funding, Stagecoach East has says it has decided to focus resources on services which do have a sustainable future. It states “There is no evidence of any growth on any of the affected services. Some other services, where operational costs are also not being met, will receive three more months’ Government funding, on the basis there is evidence of some improvements in passenger use on these routes.”
The Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority is responsible for overseeing public transport in the region. A statement from the authority said it had “been placed in an unacceptable position, to now find ways of sustaining as many bus services as it can and prevent bus users across Cambridgeshire and Peterborough being left stranded. We will now explore all options urgently to avoid this happening after 31 October.”
The combined authority’s leader, Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, Dr Nik Johnson, said: “It is unacceptable that despite getting a six month bus grant Stagecoach are still planning to reduce these vulnerable rural routes. The timing of this news couldn’t come at a worse time. It is of utmost importance to the Combined Authority that our rural bus networks are protected. They are vital for so many of our residents across Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, in addressing isolation, enabling inclusion and supporting access to key services. We are appalled that Stagecoach are pressing ahead with such severe changes to the network whilst continuing to accept the funding from the government that is designed to protect it.
“With this in mind, I have asked officers to prepare to take these threatened routes back out to the market. I have also asked that we urgently review and refresh the business case for franchising the bus system in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.
“We will work closely with Stagecoach and all our bus operators to ensure that we can continue to deliver the buses that our residents depend on."
However, Cllr Anna Bailey, leader of East Cambridgeshire District Council, is “very angry” at the way the provision of bus services has been handled by the combined authority.
She said: “It’s a terrible mess. Costs (for operators) have gone gone sky high with fuel prices and and wage increases for driver. And now we've also got the stagecoach routes being cancelled and there may still be other cancellations coming from the smaller providers. So it's a horrible, perfect storm.
“We’ve been really let down because the Combined Authority was the only one in the country that didn't get funds from central government (for its bus services) and I can only put that down to the dysfunctional nature of the Combined Authority and all of the issues that are going on in the mayor's office. So it’s a terrible mess. The command authority should be stepping up and organising its revenue budget to put as much funding in as possible to save bus services. I’ve you know, I’m being contacted left right centre by people who are incredibly anxious about how they're going to get to work and school and college.
“It’s going to leave some people in the lurch. There is no doubt about it because the Combined Authority isn't freeing up enough money to save all the services that Stagecoach are axeing. Unfortunately, instead of having conversations for the last year and a half about bus partnerships and franchising, the Combined Authority has been utterly distracted with all of these conduct issues and employment claims because of behaviour from the mayor’s office.”
She added that the Combined Authority would need to find around £4.7m extra funding if it were to save these cancelled bus services.
Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Liberal Democrats have condemned Stagecoach’s plan to axe the bus routes and called on government to intervene to preserve at least a minimum level of public transport for tens of thousands of residents.
Lib Dem Councillor Lorna Dupré said: “Stagecoach is planning to devastate the bus network in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough which is a lifeline for many residents of our three cities and our market towns as well as our villages.
“Every part of the county will be severely affected by these changes. Most of the routes between St Ives and surrounding villages will be cut. Large villages and towns like Burwell, Soham, Sutton, Melbourn, Bottisham and Godmanchester won’t have a bus service any more. There won’t be a bus route that goes to the major business park at Lynch Wood in Peterborough.
“Residents are worried about how to get their children to school, and fearful for their own jobs if they have no means to get to work. They will be cut off from health care, leisure, and retail.
“Stagecoach has received millions of pounds in government subsidies over the last two years so that they could maintain bus services through the pandemic. And they have continued to make a profit. They are now throwing that back in our faces in a show of contempt for our residents.
“The government failed to get a grip on the bus industry during the pandemic, just throwing money at the problem in the short term rather than introducing sustainable long-term reforms. We are now seeing the result, with capricious bus companies able to disregard the needs of bus users.”
Her thoughts were echoed by Cllr Tim Bick, leader of the Liberal Democrats on Cambridge City Council and chair of the joint assembly of the Greater Cambridge Partnership, who said: “Stagecoach’s withdrawal of bus services is a massive shock to everyone who depended on them including in Cambridge. It’s a painful further twist in the downward spiral we’ve been seeing over many years.
“The GCP’s proposals to rebuild and create a really effective modern bus service which people can have confidence in, are all the more relevant. But this week’s news from Stagecoach underlines not only the importance of a sustainably funded bus service, but a more publicly accountable one too. So putting the whole service under a public franchise must now go to the very top of the Combined Authority’s agenda.”
South Cambridgeshire’s Conservative MP Anthony Browne said: “This news will be a hammer blow to those residents who rely on these routes. Having only recently received government money to keep such services running, it is abhorrent that Stagecoach should consider cutting people’s access to local amenities.
“Isolation has always been a big issue in our rural communities. People who don't drive in Cambridgeshire already struggle to access hospitals, can't reach job opportunities, and suffer from a lack of social contact. If Stagecoach is not prepared to provide the kind of service residents need and expect, the Combined Authority should be prepared to look elsewhere.”
The routes cancelled are:
- Cambridge-Newmarket-Bury St Edmunds 11 & X11
- Cambridge-Newmarket-Ely 12
- Longstowe-Cambridge 18
- Royston-Cambridge 915
- Addenbrookes-Trumpington 25
- Ely-March 39
- Peterborough-Lynch Wood 23 & 24
- Hampton-Peterborough 29
- St Ives-Ramsey V1
- St Ives-Chatteris V2
- St Ives-Somersham V3
- St Ives-Boxworth V4
- Hinchingbrooke-Godmanchester V5
- St Ives Town 22
- Huntingdon-Ramsey 30
- Huntingdon-March 35
- Huntingdon-St Neots 66