THE mananging director of bus operator Stagecoach West has warned against Swindon Council’s plans to create a fully commercial bus network across the borough.
In October, cabinet approved the basic principles for creating a new local bus strategy, which will see the council and bus operators working together to ensure the network is sustainable in the long term. The service is already 95 per cent commercial.
Swindon Council commissioned the bus strategy because it says the network is facing increasing pressure from issues including the hike in fuel prices, Government cuts concessionary fares, the end of subsidies for some services and the council tax freeze.
On February 21, Swindon Council will set the budget for 2013/14 which currently includes a £200,000 saving through revising the bus subsidy strategy.
This has been reduced from a £400,000 saving in the administration’s draft budget proposals.
In a letter to councillors Ian Manning, the managing director of Stagecoach West, warned slashing subsidised routes could affect the network’s viability.
Hewrote: “The real problem is that Swindon needs evening and Sunday bus services on the core routes in the network which are now increasingly unlikely to be provided commercially and for which operators feel council budget provision needs to be allowed.
“If people cannot access their travel destinations and workplaces at these times, they will conclude public transport is not a viable alternative to the car and seek alternative transport, perpetuating a cycle of decline.
“It is therefore essential that the council does not damage its public transport network in a way in which it would be difficult, if not impossible, to reverse.
“For these reasons, I encourage you to vote to retain a meaningful budget for bus service support. Bus operators would be happy to work with officers to direct to the services where, in the absence of funding, important facilities in the core network could be lost.”
Labour says the council subsidises services 22, 25 and 71, which pass either through Okus or on the Pipers Way side of Old Town, so these are vulnerable with the proposed subsidy cuts.
Coun Nadine Watts (Lab, Old Town) said: “The letter suggests that because bus services do not always provide visible outcomes they are being unfairly punished through a lack of investment.
“I would support that because a lot of my constituents who use subsidised bus routes rely on the buss to get to work, see family or friends or do their weekly shop.”
Coun Keith Williams, cabinet member for leisure and strategic transport, was unavailable for comment yesterday.