Bus use plummets in East

THE use of bus services and light rail in the region has dropped by 8% in the last five years, according to a new report from independent Government watchdogs.

THE use of bus services and light rail in the region has dropped by 8% in the last five years, according to a new report from independent Government watchdogs.

The joint analysis, published by the Audit Commission and the National Audit Office today, is now warning the Government it is unlikely to meet its target for growth in the use of the region's buses unless there are changes.

The Department for Transport (DfT) had wanted bus and light rail use to rise in England by 12% in the ten years from 2000, while also aiming for increases in London and the eight regions of the country.

However, while passenger journeys in the capital have increased over the four years to 2004/05 by 32%, everywhere else it has fallen by an average of 7%.

And the East of England is even lagging behind the average as it has seen a drop of 8%, with only the West Midlands and North East seeing lower figures.

While the Government is likely to meet its target nationally, as bus and light rail use has increased by nearly 8% overall - thanks to the growth in London - the report identifies the steps the Government and local authorities can take to improve bus services and attract more people onto them.

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The study, Delivery Chain Analysis for Bus Services in England, says there is scope for councils to work closer with operators and with other authorities to encourage more people to use buses, as well as potential for savings.

The Government's target was set in a bid to improve the availability of public transport as a means of tackling social exclusion, road traffic congestion and reduce vehicle emissions.

Dr Wil Gibson, chief executive of Suffolk ACRE (Action for Communities in Rural England), said he was not surprised at the figures and said access to services was critical to social inclusion.

However, he added: “I think we have to think of more innovative ways of providing transport, particularly to rural areas and especially if we want to address issues of social inclusion.

“We also need to think about the nature of what's provided - having a very large traditional bus may not be the way.”

A DfT spokesman said it was making “significant investment” into buses. “This report recognises that the Department is working towards increasing bus patronage and improving bus services across the country,” he added.

No-one from First Eastern Counties was available to comment last night.

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