Further threats to bus routes as council cuts costs

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BUS routes popular with elderly bus pass holders could be under threat as a council looks to cut money it subsidises them with.

Hampshire County Council has launched a consultation to ask residents how they think bus and community transport services could be run better.

The move follows the council’s announcement earlier this year that it needs to shave up to £1.5m off its total £4.7m yearly support it gives to buses, including less profitable routes like those used heavily by bus pass holders.

An example of which is the 21 that serves Hill Head and Fareham and is popular with elderly people. It faced the axe at the end of last year when bus company First pulled out saying it was commercially unviable.

The county council agreed to step in and subsidise the service by £370,000 over four years so it could continue.

Council leader Cllr Roy Perry said the consultation would ask people’s preferences and views on bus subsidies such as the 21, bus information and concessionary fares.

‘It’s important that we look carefully at how we allocate funding in order that it is used fairly on behalf of council taxpayers,’ he said.

‘The council spends more than £4m every year on subsidising bus routes which are considered financially unviable by the commercial operators.’

Cllr Perry said more than 5,000 surveys have been distributed to libraries, village shops, post offices, bus operators and bus stations.

A further 1,000 organisations, from care groups to councils, will also be asked how they think the county council could cut costs.

People will be asked their views on stopping Sunday services, reducing evening frequency, ceasing the 9am start for bus passes, scrapping paper bus timetables and replacing traditional services with taxi shares.

Executive member for transport Cllr Woodward said: ‘If routes are significantly used then we will continue them, but if people do not use services then they simply become untenable.’

He added that taxi shares may be the future as they enable the service to run more efficiently, as well as more flexibly, and could pick people up from their homes.

The consultation closes on May 31. To take part go to hants.gov.uk/transportconsultation2014 or call 01962 846785.