Bus service under threat

BUS services across Ipswich are facing the axe as the borough prepares for a near £1 million raid on their own company's profits.Some routes could lose their services altogether, others could see the number of buses cut dramatically as the council squeezes Ipswich Buses profits.

BUS services across Ipswich are facing the axe as the borough prepares for a near £1 million raid on their own company's profits.

Some routes could lose their services altogether, others could see the number of buses cut dramatically as the council squeezes Ipswich Buses profits.

All this comes just weeks after the council said it wanted more people to use public transport - especially around the Waterfront.

And the news, contained in a briefing note to councillors from Ipswich Buses boss Malcolm Robson, comes just days after the bus company unveiled a fleet of new buses aimed at attracting fresh passengers to its route through Chantry.

Now it has warned it will be unable to buy any more new vehicles for the next four years. There could also be job losses.

Ipswich council has owned the company since it was formed following the deregulation of the bus industry in 1986.

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However in all that time it has never taken a profit out of the company - preferring to see any earnings reinvested in new buses and services.

This has meant Ipswich now has one of the most modern and successful urban bus fleets in the country. The cuts were defended by Ipswich council's Conservative leader Liz Harsant.

She said: “The bus company has already had a £3.5 million subsidy from the council when the former administration filled its pension black hole a few years ago.

“We wanted to get some of the money back from the company for the council taxpayers. Don't forget not everyone in Ipswich is served by them - there are large parts of the St Margaret's area that see hardly any Ipswich Buses and in this part of the town (Holywells Ward) they are all First Eastern Counties.”

She said the bus services that were facing the axe were not well used - while those which were facing a reduction in services were not the busiest in town either.

The Labour opposition was furious about the proposed cuts, and promised to make it a key issue in the run-up to May's local council elections.

Labour group leader David Ellesmere said: “It is unbelievable that the council has taken this money out of the company at this time - just as the government and everyone else is talking about the importance of high-quality public transport.

“We've have the Stern Report and the Eddington Report into the future of planet and sustainable transport and both say it is important to get people out of their cars - now the council is planning this.

“It shows that the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats in Ipswich are not concerned about the party leaders' calls for more green policies.”

N. How will the changes affect you? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or email eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk

MAIN points of a briefing note sent out from Ipswich Buses managing director Malcolm Robson to borough councillors:

Dividends of £975,600 built up over recent years will be paid in cash to the council. The company will have to pay dividends of £162,600 a year until 2009.

The bus company which currently pays a peppercorn rent to the borough for its Constantine Road headquarters, will have to find rent of £55,000 a year.

When the company moves to new headquarters in Hadleigh Road in 2009 it will have to pay rent of £500,000 a year - but no further dividends.

The company needs to make savings and efficiencies of £400,000 a year to meet its new financial targets.

No new vehicles for normal operations (excluding park and ride) will be ordered for at least four years.

Three jobs could be lost in administrative or mechanical posts.

Services will be cut to save costs.

The day rover has already gone. Other cuts are likely to be introduced later this year or next year - if they do not succeed in cutting costs further “changes” could be necessary.

ROUTES facing cuts are:

Number 5 (Foxhall Road), 7 (Chantry), 11 (Rushmere) and 15 (Maidenhall) - reduced from four an hour to three an hour during the day. Reduced from two an hour to one an hour during the evenings and on Sundays.

Number 2 (Gainsborough): reduced from two an hour to one during the day.

Number 12 (Cambridge Drive): reduced from three an hour to two during the day, from two an hour to one during the evening and on Sundays.

Number 16 (Halifax): reduced from three buses an hour to two.

Numbers 14 (Chantry), 19 (Castle Hill), 22 (Brunswick Road): cut altogether.

BARRY Moore from the Suffolk branch of environmental group Transport 2000 - and a former managing director of Ipswich Buses - said the changes to the bus company were difficult to understand.

He said: “If you want to encourage people to leave their cars at home you have to run frequent, convenient, reliable bus services.

“We found out if you ran buses less often than every 20 minutes during the day that was seen as inconvenient and passengers made other arrangements - they walked or they got in their cars.

“If these changes are implemented it will mean fewer people will use the buses and that is exactly the opposite of what the government and everyone else wants.

“Wearing my Transport 2000 hat I would say that the timing of this is very strange and very regrettable.”

Ipswich council transport spokesman Paul West admitted there was a “conflict” between the borough's stated aim of encouraging more bus use and the squeeze on the bus company.

He said: “What we have to ensure is that the best possible service is provided for passengers, and of course we want more people to use the buses.

“That is best achieved by ensuring the buses run where people want when they want to catch them, and the company will be working with the council to make that happen.”

Sidney Hiddock, 75, of Derby Road, off Felixstowe Road, Ipswich, gets the number 16 bus. He said: “I'm registered blind and I get a bus a lot.

“I'm satisfied with the service at the moment but cuts could make it awkward for the likes of us.

“I can walk but I feel sorry for the people that can't walk.”

Gen Harris, 54, from the Colchester Road area of Ipswich, gets the number 7, 22 and 31 buses. She said: “It is disgusting. I have to get two buses and I try to link them.

“But if there are less buses I can get that will make my journey a lot worse in the morning.

“They want us to use these buses but they don't give us much choice. But I don't drive so I'll have to put up with it.”

Heather Ely, 52, from the Chantry area of Ipswich, gets the number 11 bus. She said: “They don't even run on time and this will be bad, especially for people who need to get to work.

“The service needs to be better, not worse, and this will be hard for pensioners.”

Martin Dye, 28, of Rosehill Road, off Felixstowe Road, Ipswich, gets the number 7 bus. He said: “This is really bad because they don't run on time at the moment anyway.”

Ruby Garwood, 73, of Cotswold Avenue, the Dales, Ipswich, gets the number 19 bus. She said: “Most people have cars but I can't drive.

“I can always walk the park but it will be an inconvenience, and the fares are so expensive.

“It will really affect people in Castle Hill too.”

Martin Carter, 30, from the Stoke area of Ipswich, gets the number 8 bus. He said: “It annoys me that the prices are up on the buses and they are always late. It makes me late for work.

“Buses are important in the town but they're not going to get people to leave their cars unless the price is right and there is a good service, which means not cutting buses.”