Sunday, 19 September 2021

Bus levy could hit traders

SHOPS in Henley could be asked for contributions to keep the town’s bus services running.

SHOPS in Henley could be asked for contributions to keep the town’s bus services running.

The Whites Coaches routes are under threat after Oxfordshire County Council withdrew all its bus subsidies as a cost-cutting measure last month.

The company runs four circular routes within Henley, the 151, 152, 153 and 154, and also used to run a bus from Woodcote to Henley and a school service from Gillotts School to Caversham.

Henley Town Council has pledged up to £10,000 to keep the internal town services running on a limited timetable, which no longer includes a Saturday service, until April next year.

Now it is helping the Wallingford operator to try to find ways of keeping the services going after that date.

At a meeting of councillors and bus users on Tuesday, it was suggested that businesses could provide a subsidy because the services bring footfall to the town centre.

One proposal was to add an extra stop on the 152 route so that it drops passengers off outside the Tesco supermarket in Reading Road instead of stopping on the main road. The supermarket would be asked to pay a subsidy in return.

Councillor David Eggleton is to approach the store’s manager Simon Warren with the idea. Advertisements could also be displayed at bus stops in a bid to increase passenger numbers.

About 100 people use the four services every day but they would break even and would not need funding if that number doubled.

Whites believes a more realistic target figure is 140 passengers a day, which would reduce the subsidy required.

To further boost income, bus pass users who can afford the full fare could be invited to pay it.

Another idea is to encourage use of the Oxfordshire Comet, a dial-a-ride minibus service launched by the county council for those who don’t have access to any other form of public transport.

However, there were concerns that this could take money from Whites’ services and make them more likely to fold.

Mayor Julian Brookes, who chaired the meeting, said afterwards: “This was the first step in a longer process. We shouldn’t kid ourselves that it produced all the answers but it generated some good ideas to follow up.”

Gillian Nahum, who runs the Boatique clothes and gift shop in Friday Street and is the Henley Business Partnership’s head of retail, said larger chains might be able to subsidise the buses but independents would struggle.

“Last year we enjoyed a reduction in our business rates but that hasn’t been repeated this year,” she said.

“Businesses like mine are paying 30 per cent more and a lot of independents are closing because they just can’t make a profit.

“I’m sure many would love to subsidise the buses in principle but it would be very difficult to afford in practice.”

She said some passenger demand could be met by the Henley Handybus or Henley Volunteer Drivers.

The group will meet again on September 19.

Meanwhile, bus operator Arriva is rebranding its 800 and 850 services, which run from Henley to Reading and High Wycombe, after a rival company launched a competing route.

From next month, the routes will be served by Arriva’s newer “Max” fleet, which are equipped with free wi-fi connections, on-board screens showing the vehicle’s next stop and artificial leather seats.

The announcement follows the launch of the X80 service by Carousel, which is part of the same group as Thames Travel.

Like the 800 and 850, it goes to Reading in one direction and High Wycombe in the other.

Unlike Arriva’s route, it doesn’t call at Binfield Heath and villagers have urged Carousel to redirect it.

More News:

POLL: Have your say