Friday, 22 September 2017

Not-for-profit bus company to launch Reading service

A NEW bus route linking Goring, Whitchurch and surrounding villages with Reading is be launched on May 15.

The 142 will be operated by Going Forward Buses, a not-for-profit company founded by Goring resident Mark Ward as an alternative to Thames Travel’s 143 service from Whitchurch Hill to Reading.

It will offer four return journeys a day during the week, starting at Goring station and proceeding to Streatley, Pangbourne, Whitchurch, Whitchurch Hill, Crays Pond, Cane End, Chazey Heath and Caversham.

It will call at both Reading town centre and the large Tesco superstore at King’s Meadow before returning.

If it proves successful and additional volunteer drivers can be found, the company hopes to introduce a Saturday service.

The 142 will use a refurbished 16-seater minibus and will call at all existing bus stops along the route.

On sections where there are none, the driver will pick up and collect passengers when it is safe to do so.

It will depart from Goring station at 7.35am, 9.50am, 12.15pm and 3.10pm while the return journeys leave from Blagrave Street in Reading at 8.50am and from Tesco at 11.15am, 1.45pm and 4.15pm.

Last year Mr Ward took over the 134 from Goring to Wallingford via South Stoke, which was previously run by Go Ride.

He says passenger numbers have increased since he took charge and this has encouraged him to expand.

The news has been welcomed by Whitchurch and Goring Heath parish councils as they have been funding their leg of Thames Travel’s 143 since April last year, when Oxfordshire County Council axed all its bus subsidies to save money.

Earlier this year, following a public consultation which overwhelmingly supported the proposal, both authorities increased their share of this year’s council tax bill in order to continue the subsidy for another 12 months.

However, they discovered there was a limit on how much they could give a commercial operator and this wouldn’t cover the shortfall so they abandoned the idea and will reduce their tax demands next year.

Meanwhile the 143, which still receives a subsidy from West Berkshire Council, is likely to terminate at Pangbourne from the end of July.

Mr Ward, an accountant who lives in Elvendon Road, said: “We’re getting more and more users on the 134, both fee-payers and bus pass holders, so things are going as well as we’d hoped.

“The only issue is that the buses sometimes get a bit full so we need to find a way to spread our passengers out a little more. That success has given me the confidence to start the new service.

“I knew Thames Travel wouldn’t be able to serve the villages after the summer and it seemed to me that there was a gap between Goring and Pangbourne which no buses currently serve, even though that stretch has two tourist attractions in the form of Beale Park and Basildon Park.

“I will be trying to run it without a subsidy and believe that should be possible but if it proves to be a problem I will discuss it further with the parish councils. They ran into problems with Thames Travel but the situation is different with me as I’m a community interest company.”

Whitchurch parish councillor David Bowen, who suggested the idea to Mr Ward and helped him set it up, said: “This is a very positive development and we’re all very pleased. Mike is passionate about providing a good service and has put a lot of thought into arranging the timetable so that it’s as useful as possible.

“I went on a trial run and was very impressed with how quick and easy the journey was.

“We could never have continued subsidising the 143 in the long run so Mike’s company has really saved us. It has kept the service going at no cost to the taxpayer and is serving more communities than ever, so it’s a win-win situation.”

Peter Dragonetti, chairman of Goring Heath Parish Council, said: “We’re very pleased. It’s good news all round if they can meet the community’s needs without requiring a subsidy.”

Goring Parish Council chairman Kevin Bulmer said: “Community interest companies are the only way forward for many rural buses because they do not attract the kind of passenger numbers that attract the big commercial operators.

“It’s brilliant that Going Forward has stepped in to fill the gap in the service. It shows what can be achieved with small government.”

Anyone interested in driving the bus should email littlebluebus
@yahoo.com

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