Last week saw another chapter in the sorry saga of Conservative-run Suffolk County Council’s determination to run our Park and Ride into the ground, writes Ipswich Borough Council Leader, David Ellesmere.
The immediate headlines may have said “Park and Ride Saved” but, as more detail comes out, most people are beginning to doubt whether what is proposed really stacks up.
First things first: what Conservative councillors have announced will mean a worse service for Ipswich.
Fares will increase from £2.50 to £3.00 – a rise of 20%.
The number of buses every hour will be cut from 5 to 4 – a cut of 20%.
There will be a cut in the number of parking spaces and it looks likely that the staff who manage the Park and Ride sites will be axed completely.
Park and Ride customers will be paying more for a worse service.
It’s a textbook example of what the Tories do when they want to shut a service completely. First, they make it worse and then, when fewer people use it, they use this fall off in numbers to justify closing it altogether.
But that’s all assuming that the service actually runs as the Conservative councillors claim.
It’s entirely unclear how First Bus going to are able to make this work.
The current Ipswich Buses Park and Ride bus service requires a £500,000 subsidy and this is significantly less than when First were running it before. Even with a fare increase and reduction in frequency it’s hard to see how this gap can be made up. The reason the majority of Park and Ride services require a subsidy is because most of their users park in the morning and then come back in the evening. During the day, the buses don’t carry many passengers and don’t take much income.
To run a service commercially you really need to run it over a normal route – for example the number 13 to Copdock – so you can make money from daytime bus passengers.
First Bus are going to keep the same route as present – straight down London Road – so there will be little or no opportunity to pick up extra passengers. I have a real fear that First will struggle to make this service work commercially and could just pull out.
We’ve no idea what guarantees have been sought, or received, by the County Council about the permanence of the service.
There’s also a worry about where the additional buses required by the service will come from. Park and Ride buses go through some of the worst streets in Ipswich for air pollution. If the additional buses are old second hand ones belching black diesel smoke this is only going to make things worse.
We don’t know what guarantees have been sought, or received, by the County Council about the age of the buses.
I have submitted a whole series of questions on these, and other, matters to the County Council which need to be answered before Conservative councillors decide to go ahead with this proposal.
I’m not holding my breath though. The first time the County Council Cabinet discussed Park and Ride, strong letters of representation against their proposals were not even shared with Cabinet members.
We can’t let Ipswich Park and Ride suffer this death by a thousand cuts. If our Park and Ride closes it will be a huge blow to our town centre shops and add to the traffic chaos already caused by Travel Ipswich.
It will be another example of how Ipswich is constantly short-changed by rural Conservative County councillors who don’t live in Ipswich, don’t understand Ipswich and don’t care about Ipswich.