Ipswich 'less well served by buses than previously', committee hears

The number 59 bus heads out to Rushmere. Picture: PAUL GEATER

Changes to the 59 bus service in Ipswich were raised as an issue in the borough council's scrutiny committee - Credit: Archant

Concerns have been raised that Ipswich bus passengers are not being served as well by services as before - potentially damaging efforts to get more people cycling, walking and using public transport. 

A host of concerns were raised during Thursday's Ipswich Borough Council scrutiny committee meeting, including how changes to particular services had been communicated, whether the data cited for changes tallied with the experience of passengers, and funding for bus services.

The council's report said: "Bus services have been particularly affected by Covid-19 and changes made to routes in Ipswich, both as a result of this and before this, have led to Ipswich being less well served by bus transport than previously.

"This has the potential to undermine efforts to promote modal shift, which is an important part of many strategic plans for Ipswich."

A key example cited was the 59 service run by First Eastern Counties, which was diverted away from Suffolk Road and Tuddenham Avenue in the autumn.

When the Covid-19 pandemic first hit, operators First and Ipswich Buses were forced to reduce the frequency of services as fewer passengers used the routes, but stressed that no route was left unaccounted for.

While it was acknowledged that some government support has helped, both said they would not see passenger numbers return to prior levels.

Philip Magill, from First, said all route changes were carefully consulted on and were "data driven" from passenger numbers, while other considerations such as availability of other services was also taken into account.

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He added: "We are never going to walk away from passengers - they are the lifeblood of what we do".

Stephen Bryce, general manager of Ipswich Buses

Steve Bryce from Ipswich Buses said 65% of passenger numbers had returned shortly before Christmas - Credit: Ipswich Buses

Steve Bryce, from Ipswich Buses, said that the pandemic saw 90% of passengers and revenue dry up.

While 95% of buses were running just before Christmas, only 65% of pre-pandemic passenger numbers were using services.

"There will have to be hard choices in the future about where we go because we are not going to get all of those passengers back," he said.

Councillor Tim Lockington, who had been involved with passengers affected by the 59 service changes, said operators "were just unable to explain why the data did not correlate with [passengers'] own personal experience."

Suffolk County Council's cabinet member for highways and transport, Andrew Reid, said around 50% of its spend on sponsored bus routes went into or through Ipswich.

He added: "We need to have mechanisms by which people are actively discouraged from using their cars, rather than putting on loss-making services when people continue using their cars.

Andrew Reid, Conservative cabinet member for highways, transport and rural affairs at Suffolk County

Suffolk County Council's cabinet member for transport, Andrew Reid, said national strategy for modal shift away from cars needed to happen - Credit: Archant

"If we are to plan Ipswich urban bus services, we need to also plan out short car trips."

The meeting called for guidance at a national level on safeguarding bus routes and improved communication between the operators, councils and passengers over future changes.

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