Ipswich: �343-a-day staff bus escapes county council axe

IPSWICH: A free shuttle bus which links council offices in Ipswich with the town centre has been spared the axe – despite a raft of rural services being scrapped to save money.

The bus – used mainly by workers at Suffolk County and Ipswich Borough Councils – will cost nearly �100,000 to operate next year.

The cost is met by the county council – but the money comes from employees who spend �3 a day to park in the authority’s own multi-storey car park in Constantine Road.

The county said council tax-payers’ money was not spent on the bus – and it can be used by anyone, not just employees of the county or borough councils.

The cost of running the service, which operates during working days, is �343 a day during the current financial year, which finishes at the end of this month (�86,749 a year).

That figure is expected to rise to �377 a day (�95,406 a year) during the next financial year. The estimated number of users this year is nearly 266,000.

Today, Barry Moore, from the Campaign for Better Transport, said it would be better to use the money raised from the car park to support other bus routes where there were no alternative services.

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He said: “After April there will be no buses between Ipswich and Stowmarket after about 7pm. I would have thought it would be better to subsidise those.”

Mr Moore, a former managing director of Ipswich Buses, added: “There are several other buses passing near Russell Road that people could use.”

The service is provided by Ipswich Buses under a contract which is due to run until March 2014.

A spokesman for the county council said the car park raised more than the amount that the shuttle bus cost. There was also a �15,000 contribution from Ipswich Borough Council which also has offices in Russell Road.

Extra money raised from the car park was used to devise and promote green travel plans for the county.

County councillor with responsibility for transport Guy McGregor said: “This bus is paid for by county council staff using the car park and it is available to everyone.

“It is well used and I think complaints about it are rather dog in the manger – you have to make a judgement on these things and I think it is a good value service for our county town.”

Labour group leader Sandy Martin was a councillor in the administration when the free shuttle bus was introduced following the move to Endeavour House in 2004.

He said it was provided for staff and the general public as part of a contract which led to the introduction of parking fees at the council’s car park.

The figures suggested the shuttle was still well used – but Mr Martin agreed that other bus services in the county should get more support.

He said: “We are facing a 50 per cent cut in bus subsidies which will hit communities across the county – and the withdrawal of the eXplore card for young people will cause great hardship.”

n Is the shuttle bus worth nearly �100,000 a year? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or e-mail eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk