Could bus travel become easier in Ipswich if Suffolk gets share of £5bn government bonanza?
PUBLISHED: 13:19 11 February 2020 | UPDATED: 17:07 11 February 2020
Transport chiefs from Suffolk will be talking to the government about trying to get part of the £5bn pot to boost bus and bike usage across the country announced in the wake of the controversial HS2 go-ahead.
In the meantime Suffolk County Council is looking at setting up a bus partnership scheme in the Ipswich area - which could mean passengers can use their tickets on any bus in the town, making public transport much more flexible.
Cabinet member for transport Andrew Reid said: "It is good news that the government is looking to invest in buses around the country and we shall certainly be looking at what it might mean for us - but we are already looking at developing new ways of providing bus services.
"Currently, we are in the process of forming a partnership arrangement with bus operators to support this approach, which will include a review of the use of tickets being purchased and switched between multiple bus operators."
Using tickets on different operators' services was outlawed by competition rules more than a decade ago - but new rules do allow this to be re-established if formal partnerships between transport companies and local authorities are set up. Norwich already has a partnership arrangement.
Ipswich Buses chairman Chris Mole said managers were already talking to the county council about a partnership. "We would welcome anything that made it simpler and more attractive for people to use buses," he said.
Stephen Bryce, general manager at Ipswich Buses, said: "Suffolk County Council has invited Ipswich Buses to work with other local bus operators and the borough council to develop a voluntary bus quality partnership which would see improvements to the current infrastructure with the aim of improving bus punctuality and customer experience to attract more people to use the bus and to leave the car at home reducing congestion and emissions.
"Partnerships such as this work really well in other parts of the country and have seen significant growth in passenger numbers, so I feel this is a real positive for Ipswich as a town and as the partnership develops we can work towards other enhancements such as multi operator ticketing and increased usage of real time information.
"We are aware of the DfT's funding proposal to make an all-electric bus town and although there are lots of questions about the long financial sustainability of such a project, we really welcome the idea and will support Suffolk County Council in their expression of interest in the bid."
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Mr Reid said the council was also looking at ways of encouraging cycling in both rural areas and the towns - and was working with policy development panels to come up with specific schemes.
Labour's transport spokesman Jack Owen said: "Whilst a successful bid for more funding for public transport services is desperately needed, it will just take us back to where we were a decade ago. Over the past 10 years, the Tories at Suffolk County Council have cut bus subsidies by nearly £3.5 million a year, directly leading to the loss of dozens of services.
"A bus partnership scheme would be a positive step forward, but to be truly effective it would need to cover the whole county. When it comes to public transport, a postcode lottery has opened up, especially in rural areas. We should be looking to deliver holistic, county-wide services where no community is left behind.
"Bus services play a crucial role in rural life - restoring rural routes cut by the Tories would help Suffolk's residents to access work, education and services, and reduce congestion on our roads. It is here where this funding would make the most difference.
"A joined up, ambitious approach to cycle routes, that doesn't forget rural communities, has been lacking for years, but this new Tory 'commitment' to cycle lanes is sadly inadequate and doesn't move us much further forward at all."
Boris Johnson announced the £5bn cash injection to overhaul bus and cycle links in English regions outside London which will allow for new priority bus routes and the purchase of at least 4,000 zero-emission buses in England and Wales.
Details were set out in a Commons statement on Tuesday in which Mr Johnson confirmed the HS2 high speed rail link is to go ahead.
As well improving bus services, Mr Johnson promised 250 miles of new cycle routes across England, with dozens of "mini-Holland" schemes to make town centres safer for cyclists.
Mr Johnson said: "Local transport connections have a truly transformative role to play in levelling up infrastructure across the country.
"Our daily journeys for work or leisure are about so much more than just getting from A to B - they are the key to accessing skilled jobs and opportunities, boosting businesses and unlocking economic growth for towns, cities and regions across this country.
"That's why improving connectivity by overhauling bus services and making cycling easier than ever is such an important step forward, to make sure every community has the foundations it needs to thrive."