Category Archives: Buses

The bus service in Woodbridge

Community Transport for Suffolk- even fewer services?

SCC’s cabinet has forced through a new Community Transport model for Suffolk– despite huge reservations from opposition parties and after many of these reservations were confirmed by the county’s cross-party scrutiny committee last month.

Community transport is the term for services like ‘Dial a Ride ‘ that provide transport on demand to those people  no longer served by scheduled buses or trains.

And there are a lot of these isolated folk in Suffolk. The Conservative administration has increasingly replaced scheduled bus services in rural areas with community transport operating under various brands serving specific communities and specific user-groups. Their vehicles have been provided by the county and the services largely specified by county officers, but delivery  of demand responsive services has remained patchy, disparate and problematic.  Often people have had little idea of availability and there have been large areas of unmet need – particularly regarding young person’s travel , regular travel to employment, weekend and evening travel, and same day travel.

The new proposal sees seven contracts (one per district council) to ensure holistic district branding – so people could identify who to phone to book a journey. It would also allow for greater flexibility of provision . (However, people often travel from one district to another to visit the hospital or to shop in a major town).

The SCC-owned vehicles will  be sold to the providers, a move that supposedly will  allow a wider range of customers to be served.  The voiced rationale is, when the county owns vehicles, providers are not allowed to use them to provide profitable services if they  compete with commercial services., as that would involve the state subsidising one service to compete against another. It will also, obviously save the county a lot of money!

Suffolk County County – still in thrall to the ideology of impossible competition which has failed rural bus transport so comprehensively over the past thirty years  – declares that this will allow ‘competition’ for eg some forms of home-to-school transport that will use the assets more intensively. (Why? Why now? Home-to school transport services have become  steadily more expensive, and council-dependent ever since bus deregulation made  competition mandatory outside London, thirty years ago. I would suggest this might just be because competition was not the answer!).

The proposal was ‘called in’ by the Labour group for several separate reasons. The call-in was supported by the LibDems , who thought thought the most significant objections to the scheme were financial.

For a start, the intention was that the county no longer provide free vehicles – saving it some £570k (which these largely voluntary bodies would have to find) – but also SCC would HALVE the community subsidy from £1.4m to £700k over the next four years.  This enormous cut was supposed to be  supported by the voluntary bodies’ increased revenue from the new ‘freedom’ to provide services !  (You may notice the same tired old rhetoric).

In fact, the scrutiny committee believed it was more likely that , although the providers would survive using their new freedoms and their vehicles to provide the county with some  alternative sources of transport (for instance home to school services) others would definitely suffer.  Many services to people without other transport options would be unlikely to be supported by the  halving of the county contribution – and would therefore be cut.

And as the new contract is deliberately non-specific, the County could  claim any such losses are matters outside its control. Talk about jesting Pilate.

Scrutiny therefore referred the decision back to cabinet. And, in a very brief process which allowed no comment from other councillors Suffolk’s Conservative Cabinet dismissed the reasoning of the cross-party scrutiny committee and decided there would be no change to this worrying decision.

They looked at scrutiny and thought, “Nobody tells us what to do!” So much for democracy! So much for ‘holding to account.’

Additional bus stop near Framfield House Surgery

Over the next few days, work will be undertaken to put in another bus stop on each side of the Ipswich Road above the Notcutts  roundabout.

This is because there are now a significant number of people  who  want to use the bus to get to the Framfield House Surgery, and the McCarthy & Stone retirement housing behind it. The bus stop  beneath the Cherry Tree  Inn is not helpful for such people because it is quite a walk uphill and  pedestrian access to the surgery and housing was not prioritised in the design!

I brought this to the attention of Suffolk’s Passenger Transport department as a local need  after  various representations from Woodbridge residents –at my surgery, by email (and even when I was sitting on various buses!).

I can confirm that there are no plans to remove any existing bus stops in Woodbridge.  These new ones are being installed as an additional facility for passengers around the Ipswich Road/Warren Hill Road junction who are unable to easily access the stops at the Cherry Tree (on Ipswich Road) due to the distance to walk and the steepness of the gradients involved.

As most of the users are bus pass holders (who are unable to use a bus pass before 9.30) and people wanting to visit the surgery,  this was not considered likely to impact on  rush hour traffic.

Although I broke this news in April,  there has been a considerable delay (seven months) between  these new stops being agreed, and  the execution of the plan. This is due to the continuing operational and scheduling problems that seem to  have occurred ever since SCC  outsourced its Highways contract to the external company KMG.

Changes to 64 and 65 bus services from Woodbridge

After more than two years of stability, major changes have been made to our local bus service with effect from Tuesday 1st September. First Norfolk & Suffolk has made major changes to service 64 and 65, as follows:-

  • Service 64 will operate Aldeburgh – Leiston – Saxmundham – Wickham Market – Melton (via Melton Road) – Woodbridge – Kesgrave (via Main Road) – Ipswich, much as now, but only every two hours rather than the current hourly frequency;
  • Service 65 will operate Aldeburgh – Leiston – Snape – Rendlesham – Melton (via Melton Road rather than Bredfield Road) – Woodbridge – Kesgrave (via Main Road) – Ipswich, but omitting Martlesham Heath Tesco, and only every two hours rather than the current hourly frequency;
  • A new Service 63 will operate Melton Chapel – Bredfield Road – Woodbridge – Martlesham Heath Tesco – Kesgrave (alternately via Fentons Way or Edmonton Close) – Ipswich, running every hour. Off-peak services will run a one-way loop between Woodbridge and Melton, running via Melton Road, Wilford Bridge Road, Station Road, The Street, Woods Lane, Bredfield Road and Pytches Road. First have yet to confirm that passengers will be able to travel from Ipswich/Woodbridge to Bredfield Road without paying any additional fare.
  • Currently the evening and Sunday service 65B, sponsored by Suffolk County Council, remain unchanged.
  • Morning peak journeys into Ipswich will change – with one less bus.

First is also taking over the Suffolk County Council contract for service 30 from Beestons and renumbering it as service 70

Better Bus Passes WERE affordable all the time!

Emprotesting2 (2)
Bus passes are hugely important for both disabled and elderly bus users

Since Suffolk County Council took over administering the Concessionary Bus pass scheme from the district councils, they have managed a significant underspend every year  which they use to fund other things – not necessarily connected with public transport. This is cynical and inappropriate –and is defended by the council with the limp rationale that this money is ‘not ringfenced.’

Can I remind you of the importance of bus transport for the elderly and disabled in a large rural county like ours – and the impact on services which this cheeseparing decision has had, through the law of unintended consequences?

BUT , last week Suffolk County Council’s 2014-15 budget outturn (revealed at last week’s Cabinet) showed definitively a Passenger Transport  underspend of £400,000 due mainly to half a million pounds of savings in spend on Concessionary Travel. On being questioned, the  Cabinet Member for Highways and Transport has confirmed that  similar savings have been made every year since the County Council  took over the administration of the Concessionary Travel scheme from the district councils.

The dreadful thing about this underspend is that SCC do not allow the elderly or  disabled people to use their bus passes before 9.30 in the morning, because they say it is ‘unaffordable,’ AND in July 2011 Council voted to support a motion put forward by myself -as Shadow Spokesperson for Transport –  to change this! They voted  that concessionary bus pass holders eligible due to age should be able to travel using their passes from 9am during the week, in addition to removing all time limitations for disabled pass holders. (Full details here)

This decision was undemocratically quashed by Cabinet on the grounds of cost (estimated at that time to be around £200,000).

In other words, four years ago  the entire membership of Suffolk County Council voted for an action that would help the most vulnerable members of our county, the Cabinet undemocratically overruled the council’s decision on the grounds of cost, and now it seems as if the over-ruling was made on a spurious and mistaken basis – to put it mildly!

In full council last week I reminded the current Cabinet Member for Transport of the decision to overrule Councils vote and I asked: “As arguments of cost are groundless from the evidence of these outturn figures,   will the Cabinet member now engage to  revisit and reinstate that decision, so that the concessionary pass holders of Suffolk can once again enjoy the same benefits they had before the County Council took over administration of the scheme – and which, in some cases (the blind, for example) they had enjoyed since the Second World War!”

What’s Been Happening: June – July 2015

Hot topics this month  are:  post-16 transport, a subscription scheme to replace free garden waste disposal, further cuts to the Fire service budget,  the new SCC Leader’s ‘Listening Days’  – and the fact that we underspend on our concessionary fares budget and have done so year after year , indeed apparently ever since we took over administration of the scheme from the district councils – despite the fact that successive SCC Cabinet members have told us that disabled people can’t possibly take the bus earlier ‘because it’s too expensive.’

Seems to me that that ‘too expensive’  is the kneejerk mantra of our administration –  without any investigation of whether this is the case or not (except when it comes to  certain things like Suffolk Circle..) What’s that quote about knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing? This lot don’t even know the price!

Post-16 Education transport  Farlingaye High School has contacted me with concerns raised by individual parents concerning SCC’s new post-16 transport policy. Although the statutory school leaving age is 16, Raising the Participation age (RPA) has created a de facto statutory school leaving age of 18.This sits uneasily with SCC’s new post-16 transport policy, which, far from taking this into account offers less provision for post-16s than previously.

The county council has received no additional funding to support RPA. However, RPA is causing real issues for some families, particularly those on low income in rural communities and where there are no public services available that are timed to work with the school day.

I have asked SCC :Whether any scheduled public services that have been cut are being reinstated? Has SCC lobbied central government about the disparity of transport funding between  for example, London (whose Oyster card provides free travel for all young people funded from a disparate governmental grant allocation that provides much more per capita for Londoners) and rural counties, and what was the outcome? Has representation been made by SCC  to seek additional funding to support Raising the Participation Age?  The EADT published my letter on this issue last Friday.

More cuts to Suffolk Fire Service?  SCC are starting a public pre-consultation for changes to Suffolk Fire http://www.suffolk.gov.uk/council-and-democracy/consultations-petitions-and-elections/consultations/fire-service-redesign/  The ultimate intention is to cut another £1m of the already slimmed-down service.

Already Felixstowe Fire Station has ceased to have whole time Firefighters, and there has been a cut in the number of wholetime Firefighters across the county. As an example, on June 24th at 11:30 there were 10 Fire Stations off the run, including such stations as Hadleigh, Debenham, Framlingham and Aldeburgh. A further station was short-crewed meaning it could not attend property fires and a further 2 had appliances off the run.

I contacted CFO Hardingham to assess our local situation: as of the beginning of the month, there were13 firefighters at Woodbridge Fire Station, but they are in the process of interviewing for one more . The full complement is 14.

Proposals to end free garden waste collections in Suffolk Coastal (and other districts) Acting on advice from the Suffolk Waste Partnership, SCC is proposing to cut costs by moving the rest of the county to the Babergh/MidSuffolk system for collecting and treating organic (eg garden and some food ) waste. This would mean that the council reduces its subsidy to the minimum  for ‘free’ collections in other districts (such as Suffolk Coastal)  and supports a move to a subscription service – sharing the savings 50/50 with the relevant district councils. This would rely on an increase in individuals home composting.

This will depend on decisions of individual councils, but I gather that the subsidy will be reduced to statutory minimum whatever the outcome.

SCC underspent last financial year The financial outturn of SCC 2014-15  revealed that the revenue budget was underspent by £2.3 million (0.4% of the net budget)  and at the year end, £107.1m had been spent against the capital programme of £171.4m. This leaves reserves of £202.9 m.

Worrying  areas of underspend included  Early Years, Passenger Transport and Highways. Passenger Transport has underspent by half a million  – due to savings in the cost of concessionary travel. The Chief Accountant confirmed to me on 13th July that here has been a similar underspend in the cost of concessionary travel  every year since SCC has taken it over from the district council. Yet SCC has consistently refused to provide an earlier  start-time for travel for  Suffolk’s 7,000 disabled bus-pass holders on the  grounds of ‘cost’.

Health Scrutiny –mental health services  At the beginning of July, SCC health scrutiny looked at Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust’s Service Strategy 2012-16  for mental health and what had been done to address the CQC’s findings of February 2015, when the Trust was rated as “Inadequate. The Committee was particularly concerned about the 24 hour CAMHS crisis care service, which was high priority and rated red, and asked for a progress report on this issue.

Leader’s Listening Days  Between now and October, SCC’s new leader Colin Noble is scheduling ‘We are Listening’ events in  Lowestoft, Haverhill, Felixstowe, Stowmarket, Ipswich, Sudbury, Beccles, and Newmarket. During these visits, he “wants to hear first-hand the issues and topics of interest for local council tax payers”

Although I have been unofficially told that he plans to be in Woodbridge on 19 September, (the date of my September surgery), I have not had this confirmed.  See more at http://www.suffolk.gov.uk/wearelistening

County Councillor’s Surgery Increasingly my surgery is bringing in constituents from outside my division, who want to speak to a County Councillor face-to-face. Two people  in two months have come from other parts of the country and have been incandescent about the lack of useful Tourist Information that is provided inside the Library on a Saturday despite the enormous SCDC notice outside, stating otherwise!

Surgery dates for the next few months are:  Saturday 20 June, and Saturday 18 July. I will take my customary  August break, before starting again on 19th September. Surgeries continue at Woodbridge Library 10-12 as ever.