Saturday, 17 November 2018

Give back our bus service

Give back our bus service

MORE than 50 people took part in a demonstration in Caversham Heights about cuts to the local bus service.

Residents say that almost a quarter of Reading Buses’ number 22 service will vanish under changes to be introduced on February 19.

The company is to combine the service between Caversham Heights and Reading town centre with the number 19 serving Lower Earley.

The new route, which will be rebranded “red 22” to avoid confusion with the “pink” services serving Caversham exclusively, will continue south beyond the Royal Berkshire Hospital to Asda in Chalfont Way, Earley.

The campaigners want a 30-minute peak time service and say the new timetable will involve reducing every bus during off-peak and weekends to once an hour, causing inconvenience for residents. They have asked the company to keep the service at the same level as it is now.

Sunday’s protest took place in Highmoor Road, which is on the 22 route, and was attended by Reading East Labour MP Matt Rodda.

Many of the demonstrators carried placards with slogans such as “Hourly buses not enough”, “Fewer buses mean more cars” and “We need our bus”. Organiser Fiona Pringle said: “They stated when they announced the severe cuts to the 22 that they wouldn’t alter the 30-minute frequency of the peak time service.

“They then went ahead and did exactly that — up until last week there had been gaps of 48, 50 and 65 minutes to the peak service.

“They have since plugged a few of the gaps after we questioned them about their integrity but they have not reinstated the peak service to 30 minutes. They have great gaps of 40 minutes between buses at key peak times — 7am, 7.40am and 8.20am. This means people will miss their links to onward train and bus journeys.

“Children as young as four will either have to arrive 30 minutes before their primary school opens or be late every day — not a great way to start a young child’s education.

“When Reading Buses first announced the changes, I met with Martijn Gilbert, the chief executive, who stated that it wasn’t possible to slightly reduce the frequency of some of the other routes by a minute or two. He stated that it was important to have a consistent frequency of either every 10, 15, 20, or 30 minutes past the hour to be able to attract and retain passengers.

“It is questionable, therefore, to have such odd frequencies on the 22. We have shown them it is possible to provide a 30-minute frequency with the buses they have put on for the revised timetables but they refuse to consider them.

“We do not believe Reading Buses are being reasonable. These buses are being used and they are taking them away.”

Grace Proctor, of Clifton Park Road, said: “I suffer from epilepsy so I rely on the buses to get around. I will lose my independence if I don’t have a regular bus service because I rely on it to get to work, to my appointments and to see my fiancé, who lives on the other side of Reading.”

Stephen Roberts, of Woodford Close, said: “Reading Buses are not listening. I think they are treating Caversham Heights very badly. This area has a lot of elderly people who need buses.”

Judith Sell, of Fernbrook Road, added: “It’s the community that’s suffering — the young, the commuters and the elderly. It’s disgraceful.”

Ray Noble, of Geoffreyson Road, said: “They are proposing one bus every hour. This should be a public service, not a money maker. Car use and pollution will increase inevitably.”

Councillor Isobel Ballsdon, a Conservative who represents the Mapledurham ward on Reading Borough Council, said: “The elderly are most affected because a lot of them don’t drive and are reliant on the buses.

“Reading Buses hasn’t delivered on its promise of a half-hourly service and hasn’t taken into consideration the age profile.

“It has failed to respond to questions on whether or not it has looked at the Equality Act.”

Mr Rodda said: “Buses are an important public service which make a big difference to people.”

• What do you think? Write to: Letters, Henley Standard, Caxton House, 1 Station Road, Henley, RG9 1AD or email letters@henleystandard.co.uk

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