A community leader and a villager have called for changes to be made to bus services in Suffolk, as government data has shown the number of miles covered by buses in the county has fallen by over a fifth in the last decade. 

Department for Education figures show bus companies in Suffolk provided 9.8 million miles of services in the year to March – down from 10.2 million the year before.

In 2012-13, 12.3 million miles were provided, meaning bus coverage has been cut by 20% over the last decade.

Councillor Sam Murray, who represents Whitehouse and Whitton on Suffolk County Council, where services were recently reduced due to driver shortages and later reinstated, said: "What are we doing to recruit people because it is areas like mine where people don't necessarily have other meant to get into town?

Ipswich Star: Councillor Sam MurrayCouncillor Sam Murray (Image: Suffolk County Council)

"There's no joined-up thinking in terms of what the council is doing by increasing the parking charges and also making it difficult for people to come into town by other means.

"For Suffolk as a whole, I think we need to have really out-of-the-box thinking." 

Cllr Murray said she believes a similar service to a 'Buzzabout Bus', a bookable minibus that charges the same rate as a bus fare and runs in some areas of Suffolk, should be introduced more widely. 

"Those in charge of the buses need to look at what the future of bus services is," she said.

"If it is no longer an appealing option anyway, you're fighting a losing battle but there's still a place for bus services in rural areas especially, so we have got to have a rethink.

"People want to use the bus but there's a lot of barriers in the way to be able to do it. In my mind the whole thing doesn't work and changes need to be made."

Nationally, the total length of bus routes has fallen by 21%, from 1.3 billion miles in 2012-13 to 1 billion last year.

Ipswich Star: Some services in Ipswich were recently suspended over a driver shortage and have since been reinstatedSome services in Ipswich were recently suspended over a driver shortage and have since been reinstated (Image: Ipswich Buses)

The figures also show people across the country are returning to buses, but fewer journeys are being taken than before the coronavirus pandemic.

Some 3.4 billion journeys were completed last year – up from 2.8 billion the year before, but below the 4 billion taken in the year to March 2020.

Meanwhile, residents in Suffolk took 12.2 million bus journeys in the year to March – up from 9.5 million the year before.

However, this remained below pre-pandemic levels, when 15.5 million journeys were taken.

David Flannigan, who lives in Norton near Bury St Edmunds, said the reduction of the Stephensons 384/5 route between Stowmarket and Bury St Edmunds, which took place last September, has left him and others feeling isolated.

"I think that it is disgusting that we don't have a normal bus service anymore," he said. 

"I am retired now and I volunteered in a charity shop four days a week but I can't do that as much now. 

"It isn't only affecting me, it is affecting five more villages between Stowmarket and Bury. In all of these villages there's a lot of elderly people who need the service. 

"The government keeps saying we should support our markets and shops but there are no bus services into town," he added. 

A Suffolk County Council spokesperson said the council is investing £3.6million of Bus Service Improvement Plan+ funding over the next two years to stabilise the network.

"We have also invited parish councils, transport operators and local community groups to submit proposals for how this money should be spent," they said.

"We have received a number of proposals already, for both new services and improvements to existing services, and these will be assessed over the coming weeks."

Of the 385 bus route, they said: "The 385 is a commercial bus route and the operator took the decision to reduce the service to schooldays only because there were not enough passengers using it to make it viable on weekends and during school holidays.

“We understand residents’ concerns, but, as with every service, the operator can only justify running a route when they have sufficient passenger numbers."

Earlier this year, Bill Hiron, managing director at Stephensons, said: "Unfortunately numbers using it meant that it was running at a considerable loss in school holidays and on Saturdays. 

"On school term days, the service is largely sustained due to students using it to/from school.

"Unfortunately, whilst people may want the service, there are not enough using it to pay for it."