Last week’s Cabinet meeting illustrated the challenges we face when a service that people see, but may not use, is withdrawn.
The case in point concerns the decision by two commercial bus operators to withdraw routes: one through South Marston and one through Stratton St Margaret. In both instances, the lack of passengers using the services was the key factor – less than ten a day – and this made them not viable to operate commercially.
There have been different responses to this problem. South Marston parish council, while lobbying passionately for the Borough to work with the commercial providers to provide a full alternative to the cancelled service 65, has welcomed the Council’s initiative in finding a limited shopper service for the elderly through dial a ride. I know that Councillor Heenan, the Cabinet Member for Sustainability and Transport and the relevant Council officers will work with the parish to seek a long-term solution.
Given the financial pressures on the borough from a growing population and increased expectations, this is the type of partnership working that is most likely to produce a good outcome for residents.
The second problem concerns the cancellation of route 20 through Stratton St Margaret. As with route 65, this service had a small but loyal number of customers, some of whom may have difficulty walking the 400m or so to alternative bus stops.
Again, the Council had searched for any affordable alternative, such as a shopper service, but no provider has come forward to bid for the work. What is different here is that the main response has been to see a petition started to call on the Council to act.
Here lies our challenge. It is very easy to see only the services that we use. The Council’s budget, however, has to try to balance all our competing needs over the hundreds of different services for which we are responsible. Within that, the Council has to make some difficult choices to ensure that the resources we have are used to the greatest possible effect. That means to spend more in one area, for example to replace a bus route, might mean cutting it elsewhere.
Of course, as local politicians we are still working with ward councillors, parish councils and the bus operators to find solutions. One anomaly that we will be challenging at Westminster is the present rule that to qualify for mobility vouchers for taxis, you must surrender your concessionary bus pass. The latter provides unlimited travel within the allotted hours where as you can only receive £80 a year for the former.