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'Lifeline' bus service for St Columb Minor being axed in month

By Cornish Guardian  |  Posted: November 02, 2012

Western Greyhound

Western Greyhound

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A VITAL bus service that provides a "lifeline" for dozens of residents in St Columb Minor will be scrapped from December 3, the Cornish Guardian has learnt.

The loss of the 559 Western Greyhound service will mean elderly or immobile people will have to walk half a mile to Henver Road to catch a bus.

Basil Skinner, chairman of the village's residents' association, told the Cornish Guardian: "It's a disaster. Many people in the village can't walk that far. That bus is a lifeline for them and losing it means they will really struggle."

He wrote a letter to Mark Howarth, managing director of Western Greyhound, asking why the service was set to be binned.

In his response, copied in to community leaders and MP Stephen Gilbert, Mr Howarth launched a blistering attack on Cornwall Council for stripping back subsidies for bus services.

Councillors recently voted to cut reimbursements for 'concessionary fare cards' from 73.5 per cent to 36 per cent of the average fare.

Mr Howarth says this vastly-lowered subsidy means that in areas with an elderly population, such as St Columb Minor, where many people travel with bus passes, bus companies could not recoup enough money to make the service economically viable.

He wrote: "No business can sustain carrying on under those circumstances, particularly where nearly all passengers on that route have concessionary fare cards.

"I am absolutely gutted by it all as the last thing I want to do is to reduce or withdraw bus services, but that is now essential.

"Cornwall Council has the ability to provide socially necessary bus services which they can put out to tender. However, when we shared with them that we could no longer afford to operate this service, they declined to support it as their budget is under pressure."

Mr Howarth said he would not be blamed for the loss of the 559 service and had opted to run it at a loss when it came under threat last year.

He said he had been "undermined" by decision makers at County Hall who had "a total lack of understanding of how the real world and business works".

"I would be very wary of investing again on the back of contracts which Cornwall Council can just arbitrarily terminate," wrote Mr Howarth. He also slammed the coalition Government for hiking fuel duty.

Cut in subsidies blamed for the loss

GOVERNMENT cuts are responsible for a reduction in concessionary bus fare subsidies that have led to the loss of a vital service in St Columb Minor, says Cornwall Council.

A spokeswoman said a loss of £2.3 million public transport funding meant the authority could no longer afford to offer reimbursements of 73.5 per cent of the average fare. – one of the highest in the country.

She said: “Despite (the cut), this year the council has safe-guarded 90 supported bus routes throughout Cornwall, retaining vital links for communities. This cut, which included a reduction in funding for the English National Concessionary Travel Scheme (ENCTS), meant we were unable to sustain the high level of reimbursement we previously paid to bus operators for carrying concessionary pass holders. Despite the decision by Western Greyhound to withdraw this service, a number of services continue to operate along Henver Road, providing up to four departures an hour in and out of Newquay during weekdays.”

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