Council criticised over bus funding cuts

WEST Sussex County Council has announced which bus subsidies will be axed in the final phase of its three-year programme to cut £2million from the budget.

Of the 74 routes affected, 18 involve Crawley, leading one councillor to accuse the county of “pouring more hardship onto the most financially vulnerable”.

Nick Hill, commercial development manager at Metrobus has confirmed that, although the company does not intend to introduce any general fare increases to make up the shortfall, there may be “some specific changes on certain routes in order to allow them to continue”.

The subsidy cuts are part of the county council’s drive to save £79million across the board which was made necessary following a reduction in the grants the council received from central government.

The Crawley Metrobus routes which will be affected from September 2 are numbers 1, 2, 4, 5, 23, 24, 84, 684, 100, 200, 271, 272, 273, 281, 291, 391, 604 and 696.

Of these, the school services 604, which goes from Wakehams Green to Oriel High School, and 696, which takes in Our Lady Queen of Heaven School, in Ifield, and Seymour School, in Broadfield, will be withdrawn.

Route 24 to Horsham will be axed while route 23 to Horsham and Worthing will be run without the subsidy.

Routes 82 to Princess Royal Hospital in Haywards Heath, 84 to East Grinstead, 271 to Haywards Heath and 273 to Brighton will continue to operate but to new timetables.

Route 200 from Gatwick to Horsham will be reduced from half hourly to hourly after 9pm each night.

Mr Hill added: “It had already been announced that the support for the evening services on routes 1, 2, 4, 5, 100 & 391 is being withdrawn from September and this is still the case.

“The same applies to the early morning services on Sundays and public holidays on these routes.

“We are currently considering the impact that this will have on the service and we hope to be able to give more information very soon.”

Cllr Brenda Smith, Labour leader at the county council, said: “These further cuts to our bus services here in Crawley are once again pouring more hardship onto the most financially vulnerable.

“For many people, bus routes are the only way to get to work or get out and about.

“We have to maintain a good sustainable infrastructure to reduce carbon emissions and car use and help build the economy. A reduced bus services will not encourage this.”

A cross-party working group assessed routes subsidised by the county council and the findings of a bus survey completed by 8,242 passengers were used to help make the final decisions.

County council’s Cabinet member for highways and transport, Pieter Montyn, said: “Regretfully some tough decisions have had to be made, but faced with the reduction in grant funding, we had no other option.

“However a clearer picture has now emerged and we know where we stand. We will do everything we can to support those communities where a service has been withdrawn.

“Resources have been put aside to enable communities to explore other options and avenues, such as community transport, to lessen the impact on passengers affected by this.”

A comprehensive list showing how routes are affected can be found by logging onto www.westsussex.gov.uk/buses or from libraries and help points.