Thursday, 24 September 2020

Council in talks with bus firms over replacement service

Council in talks with bus firms over replacement service

TALKS are taking place over a new provider for Henley’s bus service.

Reading Buses operated the 151, 152 and 153 routes since taking over from White Coaches in August 2018 but decided to end the partnership after a fall in passenger numbers.

The service was temporarily suspended due to the coronavirus outbreak and contract ended on April 9 during the lockdown.

Now the council is talks with a number of potential providers for the non-profit service, which has been subsidised by the council since Oxfordshire County Council removed all its bus subsidies as a cost-cutting measure in 2016. Henley town and county councillor Stefan Gawrysiak said: “We are determined to continue a community bus service for Henley.

“We realise that this bus serves many members and sections of our community. It is also a contribution to improving air quality.

“We wholeheartedly thank Reading Buses for their service over the past two years. Their service has been reliable, exemplary and the drivers were always helpful, courteous and polite.

“When it comes to replacing the old provider, the key thing is reliability. We need a company with new buses and if there is driver illness we must have cover for that.

“We will also be looking for drivers with people skills. Quite a number of elderly people in our community use the service and need a friendly hand. Reading Buses’ drivers used to stop the bus and carry their shopping to the front door. We want a friendly service like that.”

It is hoped a new provider will be chosen in the next three weeks.

Cllr Gawrysiak said: “We are in advanced conversations with bus companies to provide the Henley service, which will be virtually exactly the same but with the addition of Highlands Park. After these negotiations, we have the tricky decision of when to restart the service because with social distancing it may well be that we can only get so many passengers on each time.”

The vehicle provided by Reading Buses was run on compressed natural gas, which has less emissions than traditional diesel buses. It was also fitted with USB charging points and free wifi was provided.

A Saturday service started in March 2019 as a year-long trial in response to demand and as an extension to the weekday service.

In March this year, councillors agreed to extend the Saturday service to July 1.

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