Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Buses in North Cornwall first for the chop

It looks like bus services in the most rural areas including the whole of North Cornwall are likely to be first for the chop in Cornwall Council's slashing of the network.

This morning the Environment and Economy scrutiny committee met to look at the model the council is proposing to use to 'score' the different bus services as part of the re-tendering exercise. Those services which score lowest are set to be the first axed.

I had a large number of problems with the different criteria which seemed to be far too much of a blunt instrument. The whole exercise seems to be designed to be quick and dirty - a fact acknowledged by the lead officer who suggested that taking as much as 46 hours to assess all routes in Cornwall on the communities they passed through would be too much. I argued that, when it comes to something as important as our bus network, we should take the time necessary and have a decent scoring system.

Officers admitted that buses which passed close to poorer communities but not through them would not get the marks in that category. Communities of under 500 people would get no marks and there were no fewer than three categories (out of twelve) which essentially all looked at the amount of subsidy per passenger. This is an important factor, but it shouldn't be worth a quarter of the whole mark.

It also appears that no marks are being given to what happens when a bus crosses the border into Devon. So a bus linking with Treliske Hospital gets marks. A bus linking with Derriford or Devon and Exeter does not despite the fact that these are the local hospitals for some Cornish residents.

The biggest shock came when the officers showed how 13 test routes scored when they ran the figures. Two Launceston routes were scored - the 236 service to Liskeard and the 225 service to Altarnun - as well as the Bodmin town service which is very similar to Launceston's 223 town service. The two Launceston services scored in the bottom three and the Bodmin town service scored tenth. It seems highly likely that the scoring system is heavily biased towards services between big towns in Mid and West Cornwall and biased against rural areas and, in particular, North Cornwall.

I'm therefore very worried that this whole exercise will lead to the axing of many routes in North Cornwall and that very poor residents will be left with no way of getting to work, to see family or friends or even to hospital.

I voted in favour of calling on the Cabinet to give more money to the supported bus services - a motion that was overwhelmingly passed - and against the proposed scoring system. Unfortunately the majority formed by Conservative and Independent councillors voted it through subject to the chief officer considering suggestions made by the committee.

UPDATE - The local paper coverage of the story is here.

1 comment:

Rebecca Harris said...

oh dear, not good. Severing the bus links to Plymouth is not going to be good for students either, but then they might be able to go soon anyway.