14 December 2010

A complete review of the cash paid for subsidising bus services across the county could save taxpayers almost £2m a year according to Northamptonshire County Council’s budget proposals published today.

The council currently pays and subsidises private bus companies to keep routes going where low passenger numbers mean the service is not commercially viable.

Some routes receive marginal subsidies and in these cases the council is proposing to work with bus operators to see how these routes can be made commercially feasible.

However some routes are heavily subsidised, receiving in some cases between £5 and £25 per passenger per journey and in one instance, £40 per passenger per journey.

The council is proposing a significant cut in these subsidies to help it save the £136m needed because of government spending cuts over the next four years. Instead of simply giving money to the bus companies to keep routes going the council is proposing to explore how alternative methods of transport could be introduced.

The proposal is having to be considered in light of the financial challenges now facing the county. The proposal would save the council tax payers £1,719,000 in the first year.

Cabinet member for highways, minerals and waste, Cllr Heather Smith, said: “We know how painful this proposal will be for many people and we know that it may mean the end for many existing bus services. But when you look at the figures and the facts about how much some of these services are costing the tax payer it is clear that in the current climate the current situation just cannot go on.

“We have worked out that the cost per passenger of some of these routes is astronomically high - in one case as much as £40 per passenger per journey. What we are proposing here is significantly reducing this spend and work on better, more cost effective ways of providing transport where there is a need.

“We will of course work with the private bus companies to see if indeed they could make some of these routes commercially viable and therefore possible to exist without the need for a taxpayers’ subsidy.

“And in the inevitable cases where bus companies simply can’t make any money out of routes and therefore withdraw the service we will then work with the community to better understand their individual transport needs and whether they could provide this support for themselves.

“We want to help these communities help themselves and if needed provide funding for individually tailored transport for them. It might be that a village only needs transport a couple of days a week for a small number of people and if this is the case we need to look at whether the community can provide this themselves or whether a small piece of money could be made available to put on transport for these occasions.”