Councillor calls to save bus he said ‘few were using’

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A COUNCILLOR was left red-faced after pleading for a bus service to be saved – only to be told moments later it was his comments that swung the axe.

Baffins ward councillor Darren Sanders was making a deputation at the traffic and transport executive meeting about the number 19/19A. The route – used by 2,000 people a month – was subsidised by Portsmouth City Council at £56,000 a year.

Cllr Sanders said it was the ‘Heineken and Cinderella’ route as it reached places no other service did but was treated badly by the ‘ugly sisters’ of the council and operator First Bus.

He proposed an alternative proposal and said: ‘It would give this Cinderella one final chance to go to the ball.’

But the Lib Dem’s plea was rejected by transport boss cllr Jim Fleming who said it was cllr Sanders’ earlier comments that sparked analysis of the route.

Tory cllr Fleming said: ‘The usage of the 19 was brought to my attention by cllr Sanders at a previous council meeting.

‘He said “I was expecting the number 19 to be cut because in reality hardly anyone uses it”.

‘I went to the officers and said “can we have a check of the usage, is it really that low?” Clearly it is.’

Cllr Fleming rejected claims that axing the subsidy, which he approved, was about saving cash, saying the money would be ploughed into other areas. He added: ‘This sum is not going to be deleted from the subsidised bus service budget. It is going to be reinvested.’

Earlier, he had come under fire from cllr Sanders’ fellow Lib Dems, cllr Lee Hunt, cllr Lynne Stagg and party campaigners Jeanette Smith and Richard Adair.

Cllr Stagg said: ‘To take this out is making a mockery of saying we’re plugging for sustainable transport in this city because that’s rubbish.’

Both cllr Sanders and cllr Stagg had met First Bus bosses to devise an alternative route to save the service, which went from the city centre, to Fratton, North End, and Southsea.

Analysis of the route found 18,153 people used it between April and December 2016. The cost to the council was £2.32 per passenger. By comparison the 22 service costs 64p per passenger.

Separately, Cllr Hunt criticised the council’s equality impact assessment for suggesting an alternative was ‘not travel at all’.

Bus user pensioner John Tollow said without the bus he will have ‘no way of accessing the city centre’.