Uproar over premium rate bus info calls

Coun Dave Brookes and coun Ceri Mumford next to the poster advertising the Traveline text messaging service, which has replaced the bus timetables. This bus stop is White Cross.
Coun Dave Brookes and coun Ceri Mumford next to the poster advertising the Traveline text messaging service, which has replaced the bus timetables. This bus stop is White Cross.
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ANGER is mounting over a decision by County Hall chiefs to remove timetables from bus stops.

Bus timetables at stops throughout the Lancaster district are being replaced with posters advising passengers they should either phone or text to find out journey times.

Pensioners and opposition Green councillors in Lancaster are leading condemnation of the move by Lancashire County Council, which means only 1,000 of up to 4,000 stops which previously had timetables will display them in future. It will save the council just £100,000 of the £205m it has budgeted to cut by 2014.

A call to the advertised 0871 Traveline number costs 10p per minute on top of standard network charges, while texts cost 25p on top of the usual rate.

Text message replies provide times for the next three or four buses from the stop but not necessarily for the service wanted.

The council says it will not receive the proceeds from calls or texts.

Cal Giles, 69, a member of the Lancaster District Pensioners’ Campaign Group, who catches buses to Morecambe and Preston, said the removal of the timetables would have a huge impact on frail and disabled people.

She said: “We are absolutely furious about this and we will be making a noise about it.

“If pensioners have mobile phones they are usually very basic and do not have internet access.

“But ringing Traveline and texting is beyond the budgets of many pensioners anyway.”

At some stops a second poster advertises the council’s membership of TravelWise, a national campaign encouraging use of sustainable transport like buses.

But Ms Giles, of Alfred Street, Lancaster, added: “This will lead to fewer people catching the bus, and that will lead to routes being cut and more isolation for pensioners.”

The £100,000 timetable budget covered printing and distribution costs and also paid for two staff, who have now been re-deployed, to update timetables.

The timetables usually had to replaced between three and five times a year according to the council, but it still produces the timetable data for Traveline, and another employee has now been tasked with that job.

The cut was agreed by county councillors in February 2011 under the heading Reduction In Public Transport Information, but details of what that would involve were not spelled out or publicised.

Last year the council came under fire for switching off electronic information boards at bus stations including Lancaster to save £175,000.

Margaret Jones, and her husband Eric, both 65, rely on catching buses to Lancaster, Morecambe and Preston because they suffer from osteo-arthritis in their knees.

Mrs Jones, of Dorrington Road, Greaves, said: “This is just penny-pinching, it’s outrageous.

“We often catch buses to Morecambe at night and it won’t be very nice standing there in the dark not knowing when one is due.”

Green city and county councillors are calling on the Conservative administration at County Hall to re-think the decision.

Lancaster East County Coun Sam Riches, said: “If the county council was serious about promoting sustainable transport they would be making it easier to use buses, not harder.”

Dukes ward city Coun Dave Brookes, added: “Bus timetables don’t just tell you when the next bus is, they tell you where it goes to and when it’s going to get there, neither of which is provided by the text message.”

Tim Ashton, the council’s cabinet member for transport, said: “We had to make some tough decisions to protect frontline services and spend £133m less on management and administration over the next three years.

“We are continuing to invest in public transport in Lancashire and spend £7m a year to subsidise just over 100 buses carrying 5.3m passenger journeys.”