Opinion: On The Buses? Not anymore

One of my first memories of my childhood was catching the number 119 bus from the corner of Efford Way, where I lived. It would take us into Lymington High Street, passing through Howards Mead, Bays Road and other roads that made up Pennington Village.

I never thought of how important that bus service was to those elderly, young and infirm people perched on the edge of their seats around me. It was only as I grew older that I began to appreciate the bus service more. Whenever I needed to quickly nip into Lymington, it was there. There was never any thought of funding or the possibility that the service might not be run on Saturday (market day).

However, on the 4th of January this year, that’s exactly what happened. There had been speculation for months, but nobody expected it to come so soon; nor so hard. Hampshire County Council announced a 70% cut in the subsidies to the bus company to £500,000. Another £600,000 in cuts were directed at supported services. All 119 buses, the main form of transport for Pennington residents to the market on Saturday, were ended on the weekends. Only five 119 services would be run between Lymington Bus Depot and New Milton.

Predictably, there was outrage.

Hundreds of angry residents confronted bosses of the bus companies to call for the reinstatement of the 119 bus service and for more services on the weekends and in the evening.

Having been in contact with the South Coast director for one of the affected bus companies, I know that they are devastated at the loss of funding for vital bus routes in the New Forest. It is catastrophic that the Conservative-run Hampshire County Council could cut such a vital and public funded bus service.

I have lobbied the Executive Member of Hampshire County Council for Economy, Transport and Environment and will meet with the South Coast Director of the bus company at the end of March. Hopefully, I might be able to make some progress in getting the 119 route reinstated on Saturdays with more evening services running. However, if the County Council cannot be convinced of the need for such a bus service in Pennington then I fear for residents living in other Conservative-run jurisdictions who will most likely suffer the same fate.

* Jack Davies is a District Councillor in the New Forest and stood for New Forest West in the 2019 General Election.

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14 Comments

  • As it is now, council/taxpayers fund most infrastructure upgrades, private companies then run the profitable routes and demand subsidy for many off peak services.

    Why havn’t the lib Dems done anything to reregulate buses then? A regulated system sees cross-subsidy with money made in the peaks and busy routes going into off-peak and services with more social need ie hospital routes. It would costs councils & the taxpayer less and a better service would ensue with cross ticketing etc.

    This happens in London, all over the EU and even the States. Only England follows the de-regulated model which costs us all far more.

  • Jack Davies 6th Mar '15 - 5:13pm

    I agree! A regulated system allows us much greater control of the vital routes that are currently being cut back so drastically. I’m meeting with the bus director at the end of the month. I’ll know more then. I’m currently campaigning hard though!

  • Mark Valladares Mark Valladares 6th Mar '15 - 9:55pm

    Jack,

    I’m a non-driving village dweller, and the problem is that, increasingly, villagers have switched from public transport to private car over the past fifty years. Buses become less well patronised, regular services become less regular, more people give up relying on them and the whole thing deteriorates.

    In Suffolk, most rural routes are now gone – my village lost its weekly market day service three years ago. It was so badly used that, on becoming a parish councillor, my fellow councillors didn’t even know that it existed. Instead, we got Demand Responsive Transport, a minibus that is booked in advance and serves the area around the main local town (Stowmarket). I use it to get to the station in the morning and back in the evening, and it is increasingly popular as word gets around.

    This might be an alternative to a fixed route that attracts insufficient custom. What are the regular rider numbers, when are most journeys made? What options might be useful?

    In rural areas like mine, regulation isn’t an option. It assumes that there are routes that are profitable enough to enable cross-subsidy, that you can make enough profit on one or two peak time services to support five or six other runs. What does make bus services more viable is using buses for school runs and then using them for regular traffic between times.

    I wish you luck with your campaign though, even though you appear to have been relatively fortunate to have kept grant levels up as long as they did – counties like Suffolk axed bus grants three years ago.

  • Jack Davies 6th Mar '15 - 11:05pm

    Hi Mark, working in a taxi office, we have received lots of jobs from residents unable to get into Lymington any other way. There is a general feeling among the taxi drivers that taxis have been subsidising the buses and trains for a long time. Though the minibus driver has expressed interest in the hire bus project.

  • Jack
    Thanks for publishing some thoughts about your Hants – based campaign. Here in East Devon, we are faced with a bus problem, but not just villages. Our major issue is that Sunday and evening services have been knocked out everywhere that Devon County Council subsidises, which means all the town-based services and even cuts off Budleigh Salterton.

  • Jack Davies 7th Mar '15 - 8:24am

    The same has happened here too! Major services between Lymington and Bournemouth have been scrapped.

  • nvelope2003 7th Mar '15 - 6:39pm

    The type of people who live in villages has changed since I lived in one almost 60 years ago. Then it was mostly people who worked on the land or connected with the land but now many people are comfortably off commuters or retired people who no longer use buses. Often the bus picks up no one in some villages. The cost of operating is high and there has to be another more efficient method of catering for the residual needs of rural travellers. Saturday services are particularly vulnerable because they do not have the revenue from taking children to school or college. Some Saturday services in Somerset were saved at the last minute with an extra grant from central government but there is also resentment from those who have to pay for little used services. Of course the bus companies would be more than happy to go on providing services if they get a subsidy but drivers soon get tired of driving empty buses.

  • Martin Land 7th Mar '15 - 9:44pm

    Friends who moved to villages told me they went for the quiet life. Sounds like you’ve got it….

  • Jack Davies 7th Mar '15 - 10:48pm

    In my ward of Pennington, I’ve found that the elderly retired have the greatest need of buses, especially the 119 which stops closest to the residential estates. Being a village basically tacked onto a town of 20,000 people, the buses become vital to residents who need to gain access to Lymington Hospital, the High Street etc. I suppose it varies from village to village.

  • Stevan Rose 8th Mar '15 - 7:14pm

    It’s not only rural villages. There is a bus stop at the end of my road that has not seen a bus in years. And that’s in a fairly urban part of Greater Manchester. But we can now book a “bus” that is more of a fixed price shared taxi to go to and from designated destinations. It stops the waste of running buses with no passengers and should be cost neutral. I would recommend the approach.

  • Jack Davies 8th Mar '15 - 11:01pm

    I’ll consider it! Hopefully, I’ll be elected.

  • Stevan Rose 9th Mar '15 - 5:32pm

    Good luck with your campaign Jack!

  • Jack Davies 9th Mar '15 - 10:38pm

    Thank you!

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