BIGGER SHARE FOR COUNCIL BUSES

By a County Press reporter

Friday, August 13, 2004

 

By Richard Wright

THE IW Council's Wightbus fleet is taking over a much bigger share of subsidised bus services from Southern Vectis.

It is to run 35 per cent of evening and weekend services from October 31 in place of the current ten per cent.

The authority said the council's own transport arm taking a more active part in bidding was designed to inject competition into a process where, traditionally, despite advertising for tenders throughout the UK and Europe, only Southern Vectis makes a bid.

The council's executive was told on Wednesday that for the new two-year contract the Southern Vectis bid would not provide a similar service to the current timetable within the council's budget of more than £559,000 for the coming year.

Transport portfolio holder Cllr Ernie Fox said the Wightbus fleet was not capable of taking over the entire service but to avoid major service cuts it could take a bigger share amounting to £206,000.

'The Southern Vectis tender was well outside what we could afford,' he said.

Currently 600,000 bus journeys were subsidised and nearly £245,000 of that support came from government, which meant that Island council taxpayers subsidised each passenger journey by around 50p.

'The subsidy for IslandLine works out at about £2 per passenger journey, which means that, generally, we have had a pretty good service from our bus operator,' Cllr Fox said.

Cllr Roger Mazillius said: 'It does seem that we are between a rock and a hard place and I have every sympathy with the portfolio holder having to dance to John Prescott's tune and I don't mean to sound rude but there is a real world and there is Ernie's world. A lot of bus services are ghost services, carrying hardly any passengers.'

He said there were many people who had to have a car on the Island, who were facing an extra tax in the form of car parking charges they could not afford.

He clashed with Cllr Fox over an accusation by the portfolio holder that he had supported the introduction of car parking charges at leisure centres that he then criticised at Wednesdayís meeting.

Cllr Peter Harris said: 'I feel quite sorry for Ernie Fox because we all know that he is damned if he does and damned if he doesn't and we all know that the number of cars is increasing and that at some stage we will come to a grinding halt.

'We also know that people say they would use public transport if it was cheap, available and clean but that they won't.

'It can work in cities but in rural areas it is so difficult to do. I think this is the best compromise.'

Councillors agreed a contract preserving most services, allowing Wightbus to use Southern Vectis bus stations and cross-ticketing and which allows £50,000 of car parking revenue to be ringfenced for bus services - possibly to extend half fares to teenagers up to 18.

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