A new task force to look into bus services in Peterborough and Cambridgeshire has been formed by the county’s mayoral authority.
Board members at the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority approved the new task force on Wednesday while hitting out at rural services.
Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough James Palmer said: “We all know how dismal rural bus services currently are, and commuters cannot get to work as there are no buses to and from where they want to go.
“The future of bus provision in Cambridgeshire relies on improving bus partnerships over the next few years, and so that is why I want this bus task force to be formed to look into the matter.”
The task force was set up after a new strategic bus review recommended an ‘Enhanced Partnership’ (EP) between the combined authority and Stagecoach, the only significant bus operator in the area. This would see them work together on actions such as branding, tickets, real-time information and timetables.
The review, though, states that if the EP does not deliver the combined authority’s vision, the public body could undertake franchising. This would allow it “complete control” over how services are delivered in an area.
Board member Cllr Lewis Herbert said: “We all know that bus service providers in this county are not keen on the idea of franchising or enhancing bus service partnerships, why would they? They have an almost complete monopoly.
“Since we took over transport authority powers it has become obvious that Stagecoach and the other bus companies have a complete monopoly over us, rather than the other way around.
“My constituents tell me that they cannot rely on a timetable for the buses that do run, that tickets bought from one company are not honoured by other companies and that services to rural areas are nothing short of appalling.”
Cllr Bridget Smith added: “We must make some serious decisions about how we improve bus services throughout Cambridgeshire before we approve any changes.
“I welcome the new bus task force and ask that it act with immediate effect to try to help some of the rural bus users, rather than wait all the way through to 2021 when it reports back to the board.”
The board recognised that critical issues need to be identified and funding found for the scheme, but given the geography of the region new incentives will need to be found such as community bus services, crowdsourcing of services to test out new potential routes and the inclusion of ‘feeder hubs’, to connect low access areas to core transport links.
There was also mention of subsidised routes, but again funding would be the issue and where it would come from.
Cllr John Holdich, who is also leader of Peterborough City Council, said: “I am happy to make reductions to bus services if nobody is using them. It costs over £150,000 per year to run a bus, and companies will always challenge routes that don’t pay.”
The board unanimously approved the formation of the task force with immediate effect, but it will not report its findings until March 2021.