Rural bus service under threat
SCORES of rural bus services across Suffolk could be under threat as operators strive to boost profits, it has been warned.Rural campaigners have pledged to fight any moves to restrict bus routes after it was revealed another of the county's services was facing the axe.
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SCORES of rural bus services across Suffolk could be under threat as operators strive to boost profits, it has been warned.
Rural campaigners have pledged to fight any moves to restrict bus routes after it was revealed another of the county's services was facing the axe.
The decision to axe the X99 First Eastern Counties route between Lowestoft and Ipswich serving villages and market towns including Saxmundham, Yoxford, Reydon, Southwold and Halesworth, has angered communities and the area's Conservative MP John Gummer.
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Suffolk ACRE (Action with Communities in Rural England) believes the threat to bus services in rural areas is increasing – and the group has warned there are only so many services it can subsidise.
Neville Jephcote , the organisation's rural transport manager, said that bus companies' push for profits could sound the death knell for rural routes.
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"The emphasis is on getting more people on the buses and providing a more frequent services in busy towns. It is an ongoing trend and has been gathering pace over the last three or four years," he said.
"It's a simplistic way to look at it, but the obvious reason for that is to boost profits. If there are not many people travelling and an infrequent service, there is always the possibility the bus will be taken away to use somewhere else."
John Gummer a former Environment Secretary criticised the latest threat to rural bus services – and the end of a route that runs through his Suffolk Coastal constituency.
Speaking from the Earth Summit in Johannesburg, he said: "What on earth is the point of the British Government coming to South Africa and reaching agreements on sustainability when one of the core bus routes in Suffolk that helps decrease dependency on cars is being axed?"
"This route is crucial to Suffolk Coastal. Most of my constituents are treated at Ipswich Hospital and to remove the service is a nonsense. In addition, the bus link allows residents of villages not on the route to be driven a short distance to connect with the bus."
Mr Gummer, who was Environment Secretary between 1993 and 1997, said he would be raising the issue with Eastern Counties when he returns from South Africa tomorrow.
Suffolk County Council stepped in to save 14 rural services in west Suffolk in 1999 and subsidised a number of routes on the Shotley Peninsula. It also salvaged bus routes to villages north and west of Ipswich last year – due to be axed by Ipswich Buses – and has funded a number of other threatened services.
Don Ayre, the council's assistant director of environment and transport, said: "It is likely that operators are going to find services outside the main towns uneconomic and we shall have to fund support – that has been the trend over recent years.
"In the past we have been given notice of services being withdrawn and stepped in to subsidise them. One of our key priorities has been to increase funding to replace services but there is a limit."