Tuesday, 22 January 2019

Weekday bus service could be extended to Saturdays as trial

THE Henley town centre bus service is set to be extended to Saturdays.

The town council is planning to pay for the extra day in response to demand, initially on a trial basis.

The current service comprises three hourly buses connecting the town centre with outlying areas that run between 7am and 7pm on weekdays.

The 151 to 153 routes, which Reading Buses took over from Whites Coaches in August, are subsidised by statutory contributions from developers who are building new homes in the town.

However, this money will eventually run out so the council is working with the new operator to find ways of making the service commercially viable.

A meeting of the council’s town and community committee heard that there was strong demand for a Saturday service and this could encourage more people to use the bus during the week.

Members voted for a year-long trial with a six-month break clause if it proves unsuccessful. This will have to be approved by the full council. The Saturday service would comprise five return journeys from the town centre to the top of Greys Road (151), Watermans Road (152) and the Abrahams estate (153) between 9am and 2pm.

Extending the service would cost about £12,000 for the firs year.

Councillor Stefan Gawrysiak, who chairs the council’s bus working group. said: “The existing weekday service has, I think, been very successful and well-received and Reading Buses are very content with the passenger numbers.”

He said the new homes being built would increase demand and people had asked about a Saturday service when the new weekday service was launched in the summer.

Cllr Gawrysiak, of the ruling Henley Residents Group, said: “Since then, there have been lots of emails to us and letters in the Henley Standard so I would suggest approving it.

“It would be good for air quality and should encourage more families to come into Henley. If people discover that it’s convenient they may also use it more frequently during the week.”

Councillor Sarah Miller (HRG) said: “I know lots of families that would use it and it would reduce pollution so it ticks all the boxes.”

Councillor Ken Arlett (HRG) said: “I’d have gone with a Saturday service at the outset. That’s the ‘busy’ day and it would be particularly useful as we’ve recently lost 30 spaces in King’s Road car park. This has to be a winner.”

Opposition Conservatives felt the trial should wait until Reading Buses had finished its marketing plan.

Councillor Will Hamilton (Con) said: “I’m all in favour of a bus at the weekend but not without the figures or a business plan. Let’s wait until we can see the whole picture.”

Councillor Sam Evans (Con) said: “Launching the Saturday service as a way to gauge interest would be the most expensive market research exercise in history.

“A commercial enterprise would not just put a product out to see how it fared and we shouldn’t spend public money without research. There are lots of people using the bus during the week so let’s try to get their views as it would be a far more cost-
efficient approach.”

Councillor David Nimmo Smith (Con) said: “We’ve got to step back and recognise that our goal is to make it fully commercial as we can’t subsidise it forever.

“Whites Coaches always felt it would have less patronage than the weekday service, which is why they never ran it.”

Councillor Lorraine Hillier (Ind Con), who chairs the committee, said after the meeting: “The concerns about sustaining it financially were valid but the Saturday trial is worthwhile.

“Many people were asking about it when the service was launched so hopefully it would prove popular. Even if it only gets a few passengers, some people rely on public transport and we should give them that choice.”

Reading Buses has not yet published passenger figures for the weekday routes but says they are “in line with projections”. Meanwhile, it is a investigating the cost of a fourth route to Highlands Park, the new housing development off Greys Road.

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