Bus passengers in Derbyshire are to keep services paid for by us as plans to cut funding for public transport are reviewed. County councillors today (Tuesday 22 November 2016) agreed to rethink proposals for subsidised bus services. Around 85% of bus services in the county are operated by local bus companies who set the routes, timetables and fares. We have no say in how these are run. However, around 15% (144 services) are funded by us.
Typically these are early morning, evening, Sunday and rural services and some routes serving housing estates. They carry around 4.2 million passengers a year.
Following consultation earlier this year, councillors have now announced they will reconsider their original plans and approve £3m. This is down from the current spend of just over £5m, but will continue to fund some of these subsidised services.
Original proposals put forward included:
DRT services are more flexible than traditional bus services. Passengers have to pre-book, so journeys can be planned with pick-up and drop-off points arranged to suit individual needs. The time and day of travel may also vary. Traditional bus services have fixed start and end destinations with timetabled stops along the way. Services are usually at the same time each day of the week.
More than 4,200 consultation questionnaires were received, which included nearly 25,000 individual comments, along with around 200 letters, emails and telephone calls. Feedback showed that 92% of respondents said they disagreed with the proposal to withdraw funding for subsidised bus services, and only a quarter would be likely to use a DRT service. Councillors have now given the go-ahead for the funding of some supported services to continue. They have also recommended that options are explored for securing the longer-term future of buses that we currently pay for.
These will include working with local bus companies to see if some supported services could become commercial, streamlining less well-used services by reducing their frequency, and joining up other services to reduce duplication.
Our Cabinet Member for Highways, Transport and Infrastructure Councillor Dean Collins, said: “We had a huge response to the consultation. And it’s clear that going ahead with our original proposals for cuts with the inevitable loss of bus services would have a significant impact on the day to day lives of many Derbyshire residents. We’ve listened to people’s concerns and as a result we’ve thought long and hard about what we can fund in the future. We recognise that getting out and about is a top priority, especially for younger and older people to retain their independence. We also recognise that if a group of councils and regional mayor in Sheffield City Region (SCR) get the go-ahead to take on powers for services in Chesterfield including public transport, this could also affect public transport services for people living in Bolsover, North East Derbyshire, Derbyshire Dales and beyond. We believe the proposals for Chesterfield to join SCR will impact massively on people living across the county and that these proposals were being pursued without proper consultation which is why we challenged them in the High Court. Bearing all this in mind, we have reconsidered our original plans for public transport.”
Over the next five years we’re facing cuts to our budget of at least £109m. By 2021 we will be spending a third less on providing services than before Government austerity cuts to local council funding began in 2010.
Councillor Collins added “We will not be able to fund services to the same level as before so we still have some difficult decisions. But we will continue to work closely with our local bus companies and review the services we currently pay for to ensure we are getting the best value for money out of our public funds.” Journeys to health-related appointments, which is known as aCTive Travel, had been earmarked for withdrawal, but is now set to continue to 2020.
Funding for community transport Dial-a-Bus (DAB) ‘shopping bus’ services, which currently costs around £689,000, will be withdrawn from October 2017. Work to provide alternatives to these services is still being developed. A DRT ‘Derbyshire Connect’ service is being piloted in the wider Ashbourne area early next year. If this proves successful, it could be rolled out in other areas county-wide to offset the withdrawal of community transport
From David Williams, County councillor