Concern at large drop in Peterborough bus journeys

The number of bus journeys in Peterborough has reduced by more than 1.5 million a year over the past five years.

Thursday, 19th December 2019, 5:00 am
Updated Thursday, 19th December 2019, 1:18 pm

In 2014/15 there were 11.1 million bus journeys in the city, compared to 9.4 million in 2018/19 according to newly released figures by the Department for Transport, with the annual total reducing every year for the past five years.

The reduction comes despite Peterborough aspiring to be the UK’s Environment Capital and the city council earlier this year declaring a climate emergency with the intention of becoming carbon neutral by 2030.

Cllr Nick Sandford, leader of the Liberal Democrat group at Peterborough City Council, said: “These figures are very concerning. Ten years ago bus patronage in Peterborough was increasing. Now, after two rounds of swingeing cuts in subsidy by the Tories bus use is falling.”

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A Stagecoach bus in Peterborough

He said cabinet member responsible for transport Cllr Peter Hiller described Peterborough as a “car city,” adding: “This shows they don’t care about local bus services that many people rely on and they are in denial about climate change and the fact that transport accounts for almost a quarter of carbon emissions.”

The majority of bus services in the city are run by Stagecoach East, with a few run by Delaine Buses. Some commercially unviable services are funded by the council, although in December 2018 the cash-strapped authority run by the Conservatives voted through a cut to £150,000 from its budget for subsidised buses.

Moreover, last month it was announced that the 205 run by Delaine Buses - which operates through the villages of Wittering, Wansford Castor and Ailsworth - will come to an end on Friday with the bus company stating that it is suffering from “heavy operating losses” on the route due to a shortage of passengers.

The 205 is the only service for those villages, although the council will now fund a daily minibus which will pick up once in the morning and drop off once in the afternoon.

The Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority, the county’s mayoral body, recently held a first meeting of its bus reform taskforce as it considers whether to introduce bus franchising into the area.

This would allow it “complete control” over how services are delivered.

A previous review which it commissioned recommended an ‘Enhanced Partnership’ between the combined authority and Stagecoach which would see them work together on actions such as branding, tickets, real-time information and timetables, although franchising was not ruled out.

Stagecoach has previously argued that franchising would see council tax bills rise with responsibility for bus use falling on taxpayers.

Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough James Palmer, leader of the combined authority, said: “People vote with their feet and if the bus service doesn’t work for them then I’m afraid it’s a no-brainer that use will plummet.

“The point of the bus survey and our bus reform taskforce is to bring local people the buses and routes they tell us they want and need.

“Only reliable, frequent and pleasant public transport that takes people where they need to go, at a fair price, will make them leave the car at home. And getting people out of their cars is one of the best ways of turning Peterborough greener and cleaner and tackling the urgent challenge of climate change.”

A spokesperson for Peterborough City Council said: “The number of bus journeys being made in Peterborough has decreased in recent years, mirroring figures for many towns and cities across the country.

“Since 2010, the council has experienced substantial cuts in funding from central government and has had to make difficult decisions to protect frontline services. Like many councils we have unfortunately had little choice but to reduce the amount we spend on subsidised bus services.

“However, during the past few years we have invested substantially in sustainable transport, including improvements to the city’s cycle networks and installing electric car charging points.

“We remain fully committed to considering the environmental impact of everything we do and earlier this year declared a climate emergency, agreeing to make all our activities net-carbon by 2030. The motion also commits us to achieving 100 per cent clean energy across our buildings and services by 2030 and ensure that all strategic decisions, budgets and approaches to planning decisions are in line with a shift to zero carbon by 2030.”

Leader of the city council’s Green Party group Cllr Julie Howell said: “I’ve heard some councillors describe Peterborough as a ‘car city’. Given our aspiration to become an environmental capital this is embarrassing.

“The council has declared a climate emergency. Air quality is an essential aspect of this and with bus fleets moving towards cleaner, Euro 6 standards, the council should be making every effort to encourage the take up of buses in our city.

“When buses run at full capacity they take dozens of cars off the roads, but this is a pipe dream unless we can convince drivers that the bus is a more desirable option than the car. While the city’s parkway system is fantastic, it would be even more effective if fewer cars and more buses used it.

“But Peterborough residents will never make the switch while they perceive buses to be too expensive, too unreliable, too infrequent, too dirty and too slow. Only when the image of the bus improves can we realistically expect people to make the switch.

“There are also very practical measures that must be taken to improve the take up of local buses, including better real time information at bus stops and routes that take people where they want to go, rather than forcing them in and out of the congested town centre when they want to travel from one township to another.”

A Stagecoach East spokesperson said: “We have made significant investment in recent years to deliver greener buses, better value fares, modern contactless ticketing, real time information and better on board provision for customers.

“Our focus remains on trying to make it as easy as possible for people to use our services and attract more people to bus travel.

“However, to drive real large-scale modal shift from cars to bus, we need government’s support in addressing key issues such as congestion which is constraining growth and is contributing to poor air quality in the city.

“We need to work in partnership with government to focus on practical measures together which will make bus services quicker, more attractive and more sustainable for the long term.”