14 January 2006

Free travel on non existent buses!

BBC News 12th January 2006
A Plymouth pensioner is refusing to pay her council tax after a bus service she describes as "vital" was cancelled. The number 17 First Bus service between Glenholt, Derriford and the city centre was scrapped on 3 January. Fordie Preston, 80, who lives at Glenholt said the bus was a "lifeline" and she was prepared to go to court if necessary to make her point. First said it took the decision because the route was no longer "commercially viable". First spokesperson Claire Sneddon said: "The service is simply not commercially viable and is not carrying enough passengers to cover the costs of running the service."
I was surprised they ran it as long as they did - apart from at peak times - it was rarely carrying more than half a dozen passengers.

The service connects Glenholt to Derriford Hospital and the city centre, and some passengers will now have to walk at least half a mile (0.8km) to the nearest bus stop.
councillor Sue Dann, Plymouth City Council cabinet member for transport, said: "First made a commercial decision to discontinue the Number 17 service and we appreciate that this causes problems for people who rely on that service as their connection with the city centre." She said she understood Mrs Preston was "making a statement about her frustration" by not paying her council tax. "But I would ask her instead to make representations in writing to me at the council as a more constructive way forward," she added. Ms Dann said the council was currently reviewing all bus routes to see whether there were any viable alternatives which it could provide in next year's budget.

Mrs Preston has cancelled her council tax direct debit and says she will be writing to the council to explain her actions. "The service is a vital lifeline for pensioners who don't use commuter services and I feel the council should be doing something about it. "This is the most effective way I can think of of making a stand," she said. "I won't pay my council tax until another bus is sorted and if they say I've got to go court, I'll have a job to get there
. "Good point!
At my time of life it seems ridiculous to have to fight for a bus."

Although I can sympathize with the lady I also sympathize with First on this one. This bus service has always struggled - and most of the previous versions of routes to serve Glenholt. Glenholt is a large estate on the Northern fringes of Plymouth which was very clearly designed and built for people with cars - and no thought whatsoever about public transport. There is no easy way of serving the estate without major inconvenience to other passengers who would not want a twenty minute diversion of another route. The fact that the council put in replacement services to cover the other routes withdrawn by First and didn't cover this one shows how little used the service is.
It also highlights the lack of thought that this government gives to public transport in this country. They are more interested in quick fix gimmicks than actually sitting down and looking at the problems bus companies and passengers have and trying to fix them. Thanks to the generous Mr Brown this lady will be able to have free travel on her local buses after 9:30 every day from April. Just a shame that Mr Brown cant help provide a bus for her to use in the first place. I am sure most pensioners would rather have better services closer to their own homes and pay a bit for them, than to have free travel on buses that don't go near them.

Of course this lady could just move to Exeter where the service just seems to be getting better. By this Spring it seems that just about all services there will be provided by low floor buses many of them really new. Another 20 new buses are due for Exeter in the next couple of months using help from the Kickstart scheme. While this is brilliant for the people in Exeter you do have to ask why the authorities and operators in Plymouth cant seem to get their act together in the same way and start to provide a decent bus service in Plymouth.

The company believes it will be the second UK town (after Dundee) and the first English town to achieve full low floor status.
I think this does ignore London though as being run totally differently to the rest of the country. I see that Trent Barton has also claimed to be the first English operator to have a 100% low floor network in place.( see the excellent Omnibus blog for more on this.)

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