The cynics may claim it’s a way of bringing in cutbacks by stealth. But First Group is adamant that its radical reworking of bus routes in Portsmouth, Fareham, Gosport and Waterlooville from November 18 is not about taking away services, but increasing frequency and accessibility.
Indeed, Portsmouth City Council’s Lib Dem cabinet member for transport, Cllr Jason Fazackarley, says he has met First about the overhaul of its network and explains: ‘The reassurance they have given to us is that it is not a service reduction.’
Quite the opposite in fact, because First told him it expected services to increase as a result. And that has to be good news for all those who rely on public transport to get around.
Old routes may be scrapped, but First believes they are out of date and that its new timetable will be better able to meet the needs of passengers.
This is clearly not something that has been done on a whim, or worked out on the back of a fag packet. A lot of time and effort has gone into looking at the company’s operations and calculating how they can be improved.
Instead of tweaking routes here and there, it has been bold and decided to start again with a clean piece of paper.
The changes mean more frequent services on key routes, making better use of the region’s main transport hubs, creating better links with the Gosport ferry, providing new services to important destinations such as Queen Alexandra Hospital and having more buses in the evening.
That all sounds very positive, particularly at a time when the government is encouraging more people to use public transport.
But we do sound one note of caution and that has to do with public awareness. Because if the message doesn’t get through, people will end up very confused.
And let’s not forget just how many people we’re talking about. In Portsmouth alone, 40 per cent of households don’t own a car and more than 23,000 older people have free bus passes.
First must communicate with them, or the risk is they will be alienated instead of attracted.