A Wightbus coach being shadowed by a Southern Vectis-owned vehicle at Whitwell yesterday (Thursday). Picture by Robin Crossley.
THE "ridiculous" spectacle of empty Southern Vectis buses shadowing Wightbus school services at a cost of £400,000 a year has got to be stopped, according to a bus watchdog.
The so-called ‘ghost buses’ are doing exactly the same job as the council’s Wightbus service on some school routes around the Island, the County Press revealed.
The Isle of Wight Council said Southern Vectis had not been contracted to run the routes, while the bus firm has called for talks with the council to rework the school transport agreement.
The County Press understands each Wightbus bus costs between £30,000 and £40,000 per year to be run by the council.
The bizarre situation was highlighted to the County Press by Chale resident Miranda Botha.
She said: “Southern Vectis coaches are driving all over the Island twice a day empty. This is a danger to children, as they are a traffic hazard, they are causing more pollution and costing a lot of money.”
Stuart George, vice-chairman of the Isle of Wight Bus Users’ Group, said it had been trying to organise a meeting with the council to discuss the issue since April but had had no luck so far.
He said: “It is a ridiculous situation. Effectively, the council is paying two operators to do exactly the same thing.”
It is thought up to ten of the buses currently operated by Wightbus could be withdrawn and youngsters could still be taken backwards and forwards to school on the Southern Vectis buses, which are already paid for.
The row is believed to have been sparked when council bosses and managers at Southern Vectis could not agree on how to run the school transport service in March.
Stuart Love, Isle of Wight Council director of environment and neighbourhoods, said: “Each year, the Isle of Wight Council provides approximately 2,500 school children with term tickets to travel on Southern Vectis buses and 1,000 term tickets for travel on Wightbus. Student ticket requirements and routes are planned annually each summer, just prior to the start of the academic year, to ensure all school transport services are run as efficiently as possible, with no overlap of services.
“If Southern Vectis is running parallel services not requested by the council, this is a matter for them.”
Southern Vectis commercial and operations manager Marc Morgan Huws said: “We are committed to working with the council and are happy at any time to help them plan the whole school network. Beyond that, the issues are contractual ones between us and as such, are appropriately discussed between ourselves.
“We believe there are significant savings to be made through a reworking of the entire school transport agreement.
“We have offered that to the council on a number of occasions and the offer remains open.”