26 January 2011

Northamptonshire County Council is seeking to find innovative ways of providing public transport in the county after having to find further savings as it tries to make up a £20 million budget shortfall.

In December the authority announced that it would be carrying out a complete review of all of the bus services which received subsidies from the authority and the operation of two community transport schemes, to help the council make £68 million worth of savings in the next financial year.

Now the council is proposing to scrap all bus subsidies, which will save the authority a further £1.4 million. A budget of £700,000 will be retained to explore new public transport solutions, which would be targeted at communities to provide more tailored public transport.

Cllr Heather Smith, county council cabinet member for highways, minerals and waste, said: “There’s no doubt that the traditional way of providing public transport is becoming inefficient and an overhaul of the system is badly needed.

“What this budget situation has done is force us into making changes much quicker than we initially anticipated. However I am confident that we can find some innovative solutions which will be much more appropriate for communities and certainly more cost effective.”

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

Some routes receive marginal subsidies while other routes are heavily subsidised, receiving in some cases between £5 and £25 per passenger per journey and in one instance, it would turn out to be the equivalent of £40 per passenger per journey.

Proposals for new transport systems are currently being drawn up but could include car-sharing schemes, demand response transport and Call Connect services similar to one which already exists in the north of the county.

It will also include discussions with the commercial bus companies to help and support them amend and tailor the commercial services that they deliver to assist in meeting the transport needs of the community.

Cllr Smith continued: “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, with current usage it equates to the same 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 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.”

Anyone who wants to have their say can do so at the You Choose website