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Mayor Nik offers £1.7m bus rescue package

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You could sense the anger as Mayor Dr Nik Johnson announced a stopgap £1.7m rescue bid to save – temporarily – 18 threatened bus routes across Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.

“In my time so far as mayor, no issue has evoked as strong a response as this announcement by Stagecoach,” he said.

He accused the company of “unacceptable” behaviour.

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Stagecoach only officially released details of the swathe of cuts on Tuesday (after the Queen’s funeral).

However, an exclusive investigation by CambsNewsOnline revealed the cuts on Sunday night, putting Stagecoach on the back foot in defending their actions.

“I maintain that this decision by Stagecoach, whilst they continue to receive government funding, is absolutely unacceptable, and the timing during a cost-of-living crisis could not be worse,” said Mayor Johnson.

He said he had instructed Combined Authority officers to start an urgent process with bus operators with the aim of continuing as many of the bus routes as possible that are set to be cut by Stagecoach from October 30.

Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, Dr Nik Johnson, welcomed Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester to Cambridge to discuss, among other issues, bus franchising.

“The process will take about three weeks to finish, and the aim is to keep as many of these services running as possible through to March 2023,” he said.

“Any decision to keep bus routes going will be put to the Combined Authority Board for approval when it meets on October 19, and after the three-week process has worked out all the options.

“It does therefore unfortunately mean a short wait while the Combined Authority looks for bus operators for the routes, but we will be keeping the public updated as soon as we have information to share.”

Mayor Johnson said the cash lifeline would be offered for the following service Stagecoach wants to withdraw from October 30: the 11/X11, 12, 18, 25, 39, 915, V1, V2, V3, V4, V5, 22, 30, 35, 66; and in Peterborough, the 23, 24 and 29.

“In addition, we are looking at sections of route withdrawn on Citi5 beyond Northstowe and Citi8 beyond Cottenham, as well as a service for March town,” said Mayor Johnson.

“The £1.7m funding for this process has come from two sources.

“The majority is from savings arising due to reduced amount of Combined Authority payments to bus operators caused by Covid-19.

“A smaller amount is from the Bus Recovery Grant offered by Government to help keep some services going.”

He said: “My mailbox is full of emails from residents concerned about the loss of their service.

“From teachers who will not be able to get to school to teach and students who will not be able to get to college, to older members of our society who will lose their only means of transportation out of their village to get to the shops or attend essential hospital appointments.

“It will also lead to more cars on our already overburdened roads, which goes against our need to cut carbon emissions across our districts.

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“I maintain that this decision by Stagecoach, whilst they continue to receive government funding, is absolutely unacceptable, and the timing during a cost-of-living crisis could not be worse.”

The mayor said: “We will continue to update the public on developments at every step of the way.

“In the meantime, I will be writing to Government to reiterate the major challenges facing our bus network and the need for more funding to keep services going.”

Mayor Johnson said that while stepping in to support bus services is necessary in the short term, it is clearly not sustainable in the long term.

“There has already been a severe lack of national investment and vision for buses going back decades. Covid-19 has brought many of the issues around passenger numbers, especially in rural areas and in our market towns, to a head,” he said.

“Change and a new future for our whole bus system is needed.”

He said the Combined Authority has been working on that new future through a dedicated Bus Strategy with the aim of providing high quality services for passengers, wherever they live and whatever their income.

“There are options for how we make the change needed, but it must involve partnership working across the region, including with councils and with Government,” said Mayor Johnson.

“One way to deliver that new future could be to bring the bus network under local control, in a system called franchising.

“Franchised buses operate in London and will soon start in Greater Manchester.

“The Combined Authority is looking at whether we can deliver a franchised system here, what the challenges are in a mainly rural area, and how it could be affordable and sustainable.

“The case for franchising is something the Combined Authority is continuing to review as part of work to improve bus services.”

He added: “Our Bus Strategy also includes developing a new Bus Service Improvement Plan (BSIP) to make the case to Government for more funding.

“Like 60% of other local authorities nationwide, we were disappointed that our previous BSIP submitted last autumn was not supported by Government with funding, but we will be going back to make a renewed case.

“The future has to be better public transport, not more cars and congestion.”

Mayor Johnson added: “Buses are integral to a cleaner, healthier and lower carbon future for our region, and so our work to make services better is vital.”

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