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Changes to bus route costing taxpayers £15 per passenger

By Ben Comber

John Wakefield complaining about the route for the new bus service coming from Great Shelford. Picture: Keith Heppell
John Wakefield complaining about the route for the new bus service coming from Great Shelford. Picture: Keith Heppell

A pensioner has hit out at a county council decision to reduce the number of bus stops on a rural route south of Cambridge.

He says residents in Hinxton and Whittlesford will not have access to shops and the health centre in Great Shelford, and Great Shelford residents will not be able to use of the service to reach Cambridge.

It relates to changes planned for the 7A service, run by A2B Bus and Coach Ltd. It serves Sawston, Hinxton, Heathfield and Whittlesford. Changes are being introduced on July 30 which the county council says will create “a more direct route through Sawston to ease congestion”.

The service will also terminate at Trumpington Park & Ride rather than Babraham Park & Ride.

Pensioner John Wakefield lives in Great Shelford. He said the 7a route is being “jeopardised” after Stagecoach objected to stops between Stapleford and Trumpington Park & Ride.

He said: “They’re cutting a whole range of stops. People are going to be inconvenienced, there’s no doubt about it. I think the drivers are going to get a lot of aggravation from passengers who don’t understand that it’s not their decision to miss stops.”

Route 7a is subsidised by the county council, which paid £83,508.26 last year to keep the route running. This worked out at £15.07 for each passenger.

The county is not required to provide these services. The 7A is one of the routes dropped by Whippet last year, and was picked up by A2B.

A2B’s owner Brian Clifford says he doesn’t want to reduce the service he provides, but that the decision is being made by the council because commercial provider Stagecoach objects to it stopping more frequently.

Mr Clifford said: “It is not, nor ever has been, the company’s decision not to serve the stops between Stapleford and Trumpington Park & Ride. We as a public service company would like to serve the public.”

He says he doesn’t know how his single vehicle service that runs every 75 minutes could be considered “a threat” by Stagecoach.

He continued: “Indeed we can issue and accept [Stagecoach’s] Dayrider tickets on our services with the revenue going to the council/the major operator and not us. All this arrangement does is simply make the journey harder for the public and further decline already falling bus usage, which in turn the council end up having to subsidise which, of course, our council tax goes towards.

“So, in essence, the public pay for a service which is actually no good to the public.”

Stagecoach East managing director Andy Campbell said: “Rural bus routes provide an important public service, but low passenger numbers mean that many routes rely on public money to make them viable – such as the loss-making 7A service that is subsidised by Cambridgeshire County Council.

“If this service is re-routed so that it duplicates an existing commercial service, currently provided by Stagecoach, then it’s likely that both services would end up running at a loss so that the council – and therefore the taxpayer – would end up having to subsidise two bus routes instead of one.

“While it’s in our interest to give passengers as many options as possible – because this encourages more people to travel by bus – the options need to be financially sustainable, otherwise both services could end up at risk.”

“This risk is recognised by the industry’s ‘Bus Tendering Good Practice Guide’, which also encourages local authorities to ‘seek to ensure when supplementing the commercial network with supported services that proposals would not adversely affect the commercial network’.”

A county council spokesperson said: “The changes, which come into effect from July 30, 2018, will speed up this important rural service, make it more direct and attract more passengers in these villages.

“We are aware of a request for the 7A service to stop at more locations in Great Shelford and are currently in discussions with Stagecoach to see if this is a possibility without slowing down the revised service, in addition to the regular Citi 7 service which makes several stops in the village.

“While Cambridgeshire County Council is not required to run any bus service in the county, without this important rural service there would be little or no provision for people living in the villages of Hinxton, Heathfield and Whittlesford. We acknowledge that the service is expensive on a cost-per-passenger basis so these changes to the timetable and route are a way to increase passenger numbers and reduce this cost.”


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