Monday, 25 September 2017

'Bold' strategy needed to retain town bus services

A PROJECT manager could be employed by Henley Town Council to help develop a bus transport strategy for the town.

They would be required to produce a business plan for improving bus services.

The existing Whites Coaches services are under threat after Oxfordshire County Council decided to stop paying many of its bus subsidies from July 20.

The company runs several routes in Henley as well as a bus between Woodcote and Henley and a school service between Caversham and Gillotts School.

The town council has already agreed to pick up the grant shortfall until the end of June and a bus working group was set up to investigate bus services.

A meeting of the group last week heard how Reading Buses had increased passenger numbers by investing in its services. Dave McEwen and Patrick Fleming, of environmental campaign group Henley in Transition, told how they had met Tony Pettitt, director of resources at Reading Buses, who encouraged them to be “bold” with Henley’s strategy.

Mr McEwen said: “They were having problems back in 2003. They were in a spiral downwards, losing passengers and cutting services.

“They persuaded the council to replace the services and invest in the buses and improve the frequency.

“He says we need a four- to five-year vision. From a relaunch he said we could expect a 10 to 15 per cent increase in people and with an increase in frequency, he would expect a 50 per cent increase in passenger numbers. He feels there is an opportunity to expand the service if we can attract people to use the service.”

Mr McEwen said the annual operating cost of a bus similar to that run by Whites was about £150,000 based on a 12-hour day, 300 days-a-year service. Therefore to break even, a service needed an average of 10 passengers per hour paying a £1.50 fare.

“The big challenge is getting 10 people per journey,” he added.

Town councillor David Eggleton suggested asking businesses in Henley if they would be willing to reimburse bus fares if the passengers spent money in their shops in order to encourage more bus use.

Mr Fleming said: “Reading Buses are doing student buses. They have doubled the number of students using buses. It is about giving a service that is appropriate for the passengers that they want to attract.” He said a project manager could create a sound business proposal. “We are doing what we can but it would be quite good to have a professional there to pull it all together so at the end of February we can put a plan in front of Henley Town Council,” said Mr Fleming.

Councillor David Nimmo Smith said that the council had a budget of £50,000 for a transport strategy.

Mr Fleming responded: “Buses are a vital part of transport strategy — getting motor cars out of the town and people on buses.

“It has got to be our biggest effort to reduce pollution and congestion. We see it as a key part of transport strategy.”

The group agreed to ask the town council to fund a project manager. It is also considering producing a leaflet to advertise the existing bus routes which would include a questionnaire to get feedback.

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