Bus improvement campaign won't aid rural services, says councillor

Bus in Ipswich

The Bus Back Better programme aims to improve bus services - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

Plans to improve bus services under a new £3billion government scheme will not solve problems around the availability of rural bus services in Suffolk, it is feared.

Prime minister Boris Johnson's Bus Back Better campaign aims to restructure the way bus services are run into "enhanced partnership" models where operators and the local transport authorities work together.

Suffolk County Council outlined its timetable this week, which will see a full Bus Services Improvement Plan published by October and measures introduced by April 2022.

Ambitions include debit card tap on and off services, decarbonised buses and clearer information for passengers.

But the opposition Green, Liberal Democrat and Independent group at Suffolk County Council has warned that it won't solve all the problems.

Babergh Green group leader Robert Lindsay welcomed the consensus from across the political parties f

Robert Lindsay, deputy leader of the Green, Liberal Democrat and Independent group at Suffolk County Council - Credit: Archant

Group deputy leader Robert Lindsay said: "These plans seem skewed towards helping with urban bus networks or big town to big town buses.

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"Evening service extensions and integrated ticketing are irrelevant in rural communities like mine, where the main problem is a lack of buses at all.

"Community transport operators have solutions to offer, as I know, since GoStart stepped in to take over the 112 Bildeston to Sudbury bus from a commercial operator that could not afford to do the run. 

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"Operators like GoStart have lower overheads because they can use volunteer drivers, use smaller buses and can run if necessary demand responsive or booking services, rather than at scheduled times. 

"Manufacturers of electric buses need to be given official encouragement to get on with it because I am told that electric buses of the 16 seater size required are still at the prototype stage only. 

"I hope Suffolk County Council will consult with community bus operators like GoStart that are able to operate in rural areas and not just with the commercial operators who are now largely confined to running routes between bigger towns in the county."

Suffolk County Council leader Matthew Hicks said having one councillor per division made public acco

Conservative leader at Suffolk County Council, Matthew Hicks

A public consultation is due to launch this summer.

In the meantime, the council is waiting to hear how much funding will be available, which could be instrumental in determining the extent of improvements available.

However, Conservative council leader Matthew Hicks said it was an opportunity to revolutionise the county's routes.

He said: “I am keen that we seize the opportunity presented with the National Bus Strategy to improve bus services across Suffolk and ensure public transport is an accessible choice for people living, working, and visiting Suffolk in both urban and rural areas.

“We want to rejuvenate the local bus service by making it attractive for passengers.

"This could be achieved by making the service cheaper, easier to understand and use, faster and more reliable, and greener.

"To this end we have already held workshops across Suffolk with operators of all sizes, and with the community sector, recognising that all partners will have part to play. We are asking members of the partnership to be ambitious.

“This is an incredible opportunity to revolutionise local bus services and we want to work with partners to pioneer a brighter future for buses in Suffolk as part of our commitment towards addressing the environmental issues we all face through the climate emergency declaration.”

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