Plans to axe council support for bus services have been branded ‘deplorable’ by opponents who blasted the idea.
Scrapping funding for all subsidised routes in a bid to save £7.5m a year is among a raft of measures put forward by Lancashire County Council (LCC) as it tries to balance the books. The move will affect more than 1,000 journeys a week on the Fylde coast, across more than a dozen services.
A document prepared for LCC cabinet members warns the decision could force bus companies to scrap the routes altogether. However, campaigners say the buses provide a vital lifeline for residents and urged council chiefs to hold a well-publicised consultation over its proposals.
Chris Dale, chairman of TravelWatch North West, said, “These savage cuts to public transport lifelines will exacerbate the loneliness and isolation of many people living in rural areas and are deplorable.”
The group, which represents public transport users, warned the plans will increase the burden on other services and could see the bill for unemployment and housing benefits rise.
County-wide, the plans would affect all 59 services in the county that receive taxpayer support because they are not profitable.
Similar plans have been put forward twice in the last two years and both times dropped in the face of fierce public criticism. Earlier this year, a Gazette petition against cutting bus subsidies was signed by more than 750 people in under two weeks.
Mr Dale added: “The council has a legal duty to consider social needs in supporting bus services and many people without access to a car rely on their bus for work, education and healthcare.
LCC is proposing to use £2m of the cash saved by scrapping subsidies to support ‘parish and community-based transport provision’.
Mr Dale said he is not convinced that would be a viable alternative, adding: “The money would be better spent on conventional scheduled bus services.” Coun Jennifer Mein, leader of LCC, said savage Government cuts, and the threat of more to come, means the council is having to make ‘difficult decisions’.
She added: “We will do all that we can, and are targeting our resources towards those with the greatest need, but we will have to reduce or stop services and people will notice the difference. Our priority will remain to protect the most vulnerable people in communities across Lancashire.”