Council boss slams bus operator for holding Portsmouth '˜ransom' after cuts

BUS operators are holding civic chiefs to '˜ransom' as a battle to restore key transport links in Portsmouth rages on, a council leader has said

Sunday, 11th November 2018, 2:20 pm
Updated Monday, 12th November 2018, 8:53 pm
Portsmouth City Council leader Gerald Vernon-Jackson

Portsmouth City Council boss Gerald Vernon-Jackson has spoken of his frustration at operator First after it pulled the plug on routes in parts Old Portsmouth, Southsea and Tipner earlier this year.

Since June the council has been fighting to restore bus services to the areas affected.

However, this week Portsmouth South MP Stephen Morgan ramped up the pressure for a deal to be struck, claiming residents were sick of delays.

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First Bus has come under fire from Portsmouth City Council's leader, Councillor Gerald Vernon-Jackson

Cllr Vernon-Jackson claimed First was demanding at least £150,000 a year to subsidise loss-making routes in the city.

The Lib Dem chief refused to pump that level sort of cash back into the bus firm, in a situation he said was '˜driving him up the wall'.

'˜The thing we could do is write a large cheque but it's identifying where this money would come from,' he said. '˜That £150,000 could come from social services which is looking after the city's most vulnerable children.We can't do that.

'˜The logical thing to do is for the city council to set up its own bus company to act as competition but unfortunately the law does not allow that to happen.'

He felt the cash would be used to prop up the business which he said was '˜facing financial problems' from Greyhound, the US operator which is part of the FirstGroup, which runs the city's main bus services.

Cllr Vernon-Jackson added: '˜We will continue to talk to the bus company but they are holding us to ransom.'

Councillor Lynne Stagg, the city's highways boss, said the authority was doing '˜everything it could' to secure additional bus routes but that it was in a '˜catch 22' situation.

'˜The problem we have here is that not enough people are using the buses - that is something we have desperately got to change and we are working incredibly hard on this,' she said.

The senior Lib Dem councillor said the authority was in the process of striking a deal with operator First Buses to restore some of the city's off-peak services.

And although unable to confirm the exact figure of the deal, Cllr Stagg did say the cost to the council was '˜significantly less' than the £150,000 quoted for the full restore

It is expected two new off-peak weekday shuttle services could be introduced into the city as early as next month, running between Tipner and St Mary's Hospital, via North End.

While the number 13 bus is also expected to be restored on a Saturday, operating on a reduced timetable.

Cllr Stagg added: '˜Buses are even more critical today than they have ever been because of the air quality problem the city has got.

'˜We have to have better bus services and people have go to use them instead of their cars.'

Concerns have since prompted a meeting between Mr Morgan and Marc Reddy, managing director of First Bus.

The Labour MP said: '˜These changes could have a significant impact on social isolation and the accessibility of local services for our elderly in Portsmouth's communities.

'˜The administration needs to catch up and get round the table with Mr Reddy to find a practical solution. At best the services should be reinstated or a new service introduced.'