During the year, Wiltshire Council is looking for ways to reduce the money it spends on subsidising bus services by a quarter of a million pounds. Among the services now being reviewed are the two that link Marlborough, Great Bedwyn and Hungerford – routes 20 and 22 run by Wiltshire Buses.
These routes not only provide links between the villages, but link Marlborough to railway services for Newbury, Reading and London. Two possible weekday timetables (taking in part of the Wilts and Dorset route 21) are included in the consultation papers and the consultation will run until June 30.
The Council believe that the number of passengers using these two services does not justify the use of two buses and three drivers each day: “The main aim of this consultation is to identify possible ways of providing a cost-effective service that meets the needs of the area at an affordable cost to the council.”
The current cost of the council subsidy for these two services are not available. But for 2011-2012 the 20 and 22 routes – including the shoppers’ bus to Newbury – were supported by a subsidy of £138,730. And this was a big increase on the subsidy of £84,109 for 2010-2011.
Year by year Wiltshire Council has been reducing its budget for subsidising bus routes. This money either finances whole routes or finances services at key times of the day or week. In the current year the cost is £4,296,400.
For 2011-2012 it was £6,089,390 and the year before that it was £6,577,401. Part of the reduction has come from radical changes to Salisbury’s Park and Ride Scheme which took £1,458,460 of the total subsidies in 2010-2011 but only £491,400 this year.
If the consultation on these two Marlborough area bus routes brings a reduction in services, Wiltshire Council is also announcing Accelerate, a new body set up with Community First to support community transport (CT) systems in the county. Accelerate will use “some” of the money given by central government to Wiltshire Council to develop CT. It will help existing schemes and provide “hands on assistance to community groups wishing to establish CT schemes for the first time.”
Accelerate and the accompanying Community Transport Development Fund, will be launched in Devizes Town Hall on June 9 with a key note address by Claire Perry MP. It is not yet clear how much money will be earmarked for this CT initiative which appears to be another move away from direct use of public money towards the localism agenda.
The Council’s review of bus routes comes a few weeks after a report by Transition Marlborough criticised local bus services and especially the lack of connections to train services at both Bedwyn and Swindon. As Marlborough News Online reported, surveys showed that bus services do not meet the needs of those seeking work outside the town and this has a knock-on effect on the town’s economy.
The report noted that Transition Marlborough is already working with other organisations – including Community First – to establish a direct minibus service from Marlborough to Bedwyn station to meet the 0646 to Paddington and the 1935 from Paddington. Neither of these trains is served by the present bus timetable. Now they can count on assistance from Accelerate and the new CT development fund.
Transition Marlborough’s report has already been put to the Town Council’s Amenities and Open Spaces Committee and will be presented to the Area Board later this month.
As Marlborough News Online reported last year, the rise in Wiltshire’s car parking charges has been justified by the need in rural areas to subsidise bus routes. However it is by no means certain that the spread of bus subsidies is equal throughout the county or whether it takes enough account of the availability of other forms of transport such as the railways.
(Details of the consultation on Routes 20 and 22 have been sent to town and parish councils, councillors, area boards and user groups. Copies can be obtained by emailing email@example.com and a web address to access the consultation papers will be available by the end of the week.)