When severe service cuts were threatened, Bus Users Shropshire took action, helping to trigger nearly 1,000 responses to the Council’s consultation. Les Lumsdon picks up the story in this guest blog.
Like many rural areas Shropshire suffers from uncoordinated bus services. We have a minimal service during the daytime with few journeys after 7pm and none on Sundays and Bank Holidays. It is an understatement to say that the network has been under pressure for several years: the County Council does not even refresh timetable cases, as this picture shows. Passenger confidence hit rock bottom when two operators won tenders but then collapsed their operations. Thankfully, Arriva Midlands stepped in to rebuild routes such as the 436 to Bridgnorth.
Just when we thought the bus network was stabilising, Shropshire Council announced that it would seek to reduce the bus support budget by £405,000 from total budget of £1,809,955 to support non-commercially viable services. It also proposed to cut £55,000 from the Park and Ride Service in Shrewsbury which currently receives a £258,456 subsidy per annum. The Council provided a list of services to be cut or reduced and asked residents what they thought about these proposals. This was in the form of an online notice which asked people to submit their views by email or by letter within six weeks of the issue date.
Bus Users Shropshire
We knew full well that many bus users would not be checking the Council website so our first action was to design and have printed a bespoke leaflet for each of the main routes affected. This was duly handed out to passengers at bus stops and stations across the county. We also contacted the media, councillors and other organisations to present our position. This focused on three matters: the frequency of inter-urban services, no cuts to early evening departures and rationalising of town services where there happened to be duplication.
Nearly 1,000 responses were received from the general public to the consultation. However, we also asked people to write to their local councillors and this worked well; it sparked a genuine wave of opinion against further cuts to bus services. In the consultation response there were 1,433 comments concerning the cuts. These were categorised and it is interesting to note that 44 per cent were concerned about social isolation followed by two other priority issues - environmental and economic impact effects.
Shropshire Cabinet members duly met in June and accepted the officers’ recommendation not to implement the reduction or removal of services. The budget was amended, reducing the proposed cut from £405,000 to £180,000. With regard to the Shrewsbury Park and Ride, fares will be increased, a group ticket will be removed and there will be a review of the discount currently available to concessionary pass holders.
There will still be some ‘efficiencies’ to be made, meaning cuts to services, so the story is not over yet. We have a meeting with the portfolio holders and officers to discuss exactly what this means. We will also support our colleague, Professor John Whitelegg, with the Bus Upgrade Project which aims to encourage Shropshire Council to move towards an integrated public transport network. There is plenty of work to do to change behaviour and budgets.
The principal lessons learned:
- To engage with passengers through talking to them at bus stops and elsewhere (We were not permitted to do this on buses). We have found this to be more effective than public meetings.
- To prepare a position statement and keep to this in terms of media and councillor contact. Consistency of message is important. The local radio station often cited the need for buses to pay their way or that there were too few people on board as a good reason for cutting them. We were able to counter this with survey material and a solid message.
- To work as a team in meeting the public, councillors and other organisations. In reality there were only four of us out on the street, but the effort paid off.