I’m glad that I can report slightly better news on bus services this week.

It was looking like the last bus of the day on routes 3E, 5E, 8, 9 and 13 could no longer be run because the cost of subsidising these services had increased dramatically and was far more than Ipswich Borough Council’s budget.

However, at the last minute, Ipswich Buses has stepped in and agreed to run these services without a subsidy until the end of the year. The company will review the position nearer the time to see whether they can afford to keep the last buses running.

The only reason Ipswich Buses – which is wholly owned by Ipswich Borough Council – can take this step is because the council does not require it to make a profit and pay a dividend to shareholders like a privately-owned bus company. Instead, the council requires the company to reinvest all income into supporting services in the town.

This means that Ipswich Buses can put on services that a privately-owned bus company would refuse to run without a public subsidy.

However, the company is still, at the end of the day, required to operate on a break-even or better basis across all its services so the outcome of the review of last buses will depend on four main factors:

1. The Government’s support for the bus industry following Covid is planned to be withdrawn from October despite passenger numbers not yet recovering to pre-pandemic levels. If the Government's policy changes and support is extended, then it will improve the finances of the bus company.

2. Diesel prices are currently at or near a record high. If the price falls by the end of the year, then it will improve the viability of the last bus services. Unfortunately, the flipside is also true: if diesel prices climb even higher then these services will lose even more money.

3. How many people are using the buses? Passenger numbers have been gradually increasing since the lockdowns ended. Every additional paying passenger makes the services more viable, but it should be remembered that the last bus services ran at a loss even before Covid.

4. Have we been able to identify any external funding that would help support the last buses? Suffolk County Council remains the transport authority with responsibility for maintaining bus routes. Some of the late-night buses also serve residents living in Babergh and East Suffolk but neither of these councils currently provides any financial support for bus services. There may be other sources.

Obviously, the first two factors are completely out of our control. The council will continue to try and identify additional funding. But the main determiner of whether the last buses continue to run is the number of people using them so it’s very much a case of “use it or lose it”.

Electric vehicles

At the same meeting we were discussing saving bus services, we also agreed to invest in new electric vehicle charging points in the council’s car parks across the town centre.

Electric cars are becoming more popular for environmental reasons and, increasingly, because they are a lot cheaper to run. But a large proportion of properties in Ipswich do not have off-road parking which makes it very difficult, if not impossible, to run one.

Most of these houses are in and around the town centre. By locating publicly available chargers in our town centre car parks we can open up the possibility of electric vehicle ownership to more people.

Ipswich Star: More electric vehicle chargers will be installed in Ipswich. Stock photoMore electric vehicle chargers will be installed in Ipswich. Stock photo (Image: Andy Russell)

This has benefits both in terms of reducing carbon emissions and also improving air quality. The largest cause of poor air quality in Ipswich is emissions from petrol and diesel vehicles.

Ipswich already has more public EV chargers than the rest of Suffolk put together, but we have now been able to access a grant to install a further fourteen chargers in seven car parks.

Residents with an electric vehicle will be able to get a permit that will enable them to park in a space for free overnight and only pay for charging their vehicle.

Any surplus the council makes on operating these chargers will be recycled into installing further public charging points.

In this way, we will be able to gradually expand the number of people who can use electric vehicles, at no cost to the council, and without relying on the somewhat unreliable and unpredictable doling out of grants by the Government.