Tuesday, 16 August 2022

Bus companies bid to keep loss-making services going

Bus companies bid to keep loss-making services going

BUS companies are bidding to keep Henley’s town centre services running.

The town council, which currently subsidises the 151 to 154 routes, has put the contract out to tender and will be accepting sealed offers until Wednesday. Three bids have already been made.

The winner will be chosen on Thursday and then invited to begin negotiations to run the four routes as soon as possible after March 5.

The council has been trying to save the services since Oxfordshire County Council withdrew all bus subsidies as a cost-cutting measure in 2016.

The routes, which are run by Whites Coaches and link the town centre with outlying residential areas, do not make a profit so would have folded without support from the town council, which agreed to pay £1,500 a month until the end of March.

The council anticipates having to continue part-funding the new Henley Hopper service but has appointed a consultant to find ways of making it commercially viable in the long run.

It was legally required to put the contract out to tender. Bidders must be able to maintain the current hourly service between 9.30am and 2.30pm every weekday for five years.

This period could be extended to eight years depending on funding, passenger demand and performance.

Buses must have at least 31 seats at peak times with disabled access and electronic ticketing.

The council could purchase a “low emission” vehicle using statutory contributions from housing developers and lease it back to the operator, which would be responsible for maintaining it.

Councillors are also keen to find someone to run a Saturday service and extend the routes to cover Highlands Farm, off Greys Road, where 170 new homes are being built, Henley Rugby Club in Marlow Road, the Tesco supermarket, off Reading Road, Henley station and Townlands Memorial Hospital.

It would also welcome offers to run buses at intervals of 30 minutes, or even 15, which would require up to two extra vehicles.

The council will have the final say on the price of fares.

Councillor Stefan Gawrysiak said: “We want to secure a cost-effective service for the community and to get a more environmentally friendly vehicle such as a gas-powered or hybrid one. A newer bus would also improve the comfort of passengers.

“We will have to continue the subsidy for a year or two using developer contributions but in the long term it should be making more money.

“Our work to make the routes more commercially viable will continue and there is definitely scope for improvement. I don’t know whether it will ever get by without any subsidy but we should be able to reduce the amount required.

“This community service must always run and if we have to fund it modestly then so be it.

“It’s certainly popular with the elderly but we need to talk about increasing usage by making it more convenient and reliable.

“If it’s used more widely by people of all ages, there will be fewer car journeys into the town centre and that will help with other problems like parking, congestion and air pollution.”

Consultant Richard Hudson says the vehicle currently serving the four routes should be replaced and the timetable should be extended to run from 7am to 7pm by 2019.

He estimates this would increase passenger numbers from 106 per day to 389 by 2029, bringing in the first profit by 2022/23.

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