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Bus cuts fury by

Will my bus service survive the axe? This is the question many people will be asking as more than 225,000 passenger trips face being cut by Cheshire County Council.

Will my bus service survive the axe? This is the question many people will be asking as more than 225,000 passenger trips face being cut by Cheshire County Council.

The deadline for comments from the public is today and in this Chronicle special report, we outline exactly which services are under threat and the last ditch efforts being made to save them.

CITY leaders have fired off a damning eight-point indictment to County Hall in response to proposals to axe county-supported bus services in Chester.

Consultations on the proposals, put forward to combat a forecast overspend on Cheshire bus services of more than £750,000 in 2004/05, end today (Friday).

County leader Paul Findlow (Con) has been told the cuts are against the wishes of residents and the business community and the council is 'systematically destroying Chester's transportation future'.

Pointing out that previous cuts took place in 2003, council leader David Evans (Lib-Dem) and his deputy John Price (Lab) said: 'The city council is very concerned about what is a second round of cuts to supported bus services and strongly objects.'

Arguing the move is contrary to the wishes of local people, they have told Cllr Findlow: 'We have recently undertaken a survey of the residents of Chester district to identify the issues which are of most concern to them and what they want improved.

'Transport and traffic congestion was highest on their list of priority issues after crime and community safety.'

They added: 'It is contrary to Chester's community plan, which sees transport and public transport improvements as a priority.

'It is contrary to the wishes of Chester's business community. At the last meeting of the city's economic development task group and the Chester city centre management executive, which are important business partnerships on which county council members sit, key representatives of Chester's business community strongly criticised the lack of a coherent and deliverable transportation strategy for Chester.

'They saw this as critical to the future competitiveness and economic prosperity of the city.

'Such extensive cuts in the subsidy of buses in Chester will undermine our ability to develop a coordinated transportation strategy.

'The Government Office for the North West has already criticised the county council in its local transport plan for not having a transportation strategy for Chester which they were convinced would work.'

The town hall points out the Government has refused to fund major investment in transportation in Chester until it is convinced the city has a strategy.

Officers of both authorities are working together to develop a strategy within the next few months.

'These cuts undermine this and hampers our ability to develop and, more importantly, deliver a transport plan for Chester,' said the city councillors.

They accuse the county council of 'systematically dismantling Chester's transportation future', saying the county has refused to implement the CDTS scheme and has made it clear that no more bus lanes will be created in the city.

This, they believe, will lead to an increase in congestion in Chester, while communities in both urban and rural areas will become isolated.

'This is particularly acute for those families without access to a car and for those people who use public transport in the evening,' said the councillors.

The cuts, they add, 'will cause real community safety issues for people travelling or trying to travel in the evening', which are 'contrary to the aims of the Chester Community Safety Partnership'.

The county council says it has faced 'significant increases' in the cost of supported bus services.

'These increases can be attributed to general increases in contract prices, the need to replace commercial services de-registered by the bus operators and the need to retain, at high cost, contracts prematurely terminated by operators,' said transport co-ordinators.

'To avoid overspending by such a large amount, it is necessary to consider withdrawing a number of bus services which are financially supported by the county council.'

The county says these include a number of 'poorly performing services', with a blanket withdrawal of evening bus services throughout Cheshire.

Consideration will be given to some services running later where hospital visiting is involved.

Comments can be sent to the County Transport Coordinator, Rivacre Business Centre, Mill Lane, Ellesmere Port CH66 3TL or by fax to 01244 603200. E-mails can be sent to tranco@cheshire.gov.uk and recorded messages can be left on 01244 603498. Text messages can be sent to 07802 578003. The deadline for comments is today (Friday).

'Sign of social and economic hardship'

COUNTY council chairman Nora Dolphin received a petition containing more than 1,500 signatures against proposals to axe evening subsidised bus services across Cheshire.

The document was handed in by Labour's environment spokesman David Robinson before the start of last Thursday's meeting, which debated the issue and set the new Council Tax figure.

'This petition has been signed by residents from all six Cheshire districts, including virtually every town and many rural areas,' said Cllr Robinson.

'Everyone who has signed on the dotted line agrees with me that the proposals could result in social and economic hardship for people who rely on public transport.

'That is because 85% of buses will cease operating after 7pm.

'And we must also not forget the impact this may have on the wider community and economy.'

Cllr Robinson added: 'I am confident that the Labour group will show during the council meeting that bus services can be properly funded and the county council's obligations to community strategy can be met, as well as be able to demonstrate its commitment to access for all residents.'

At last Thursday's meeting Cheshire County Council members agreed a 4.1% rise in Council Tax and the Tory administration revealed it would be putting £500,000 back into the budget - £300,000 to Social Services and the rest to subsidised bus services.

Consultation on uneconomic subsidised bus services will continue until the end of the month and no decision on individual services will be taken until the process is completed.

But Cllr Robinson said: 'The Tories have put £200,000 extra in the supported bus budget for the next financial year, but that still leaves the budget £350,000 short.

'In real terms the budget over a three-year period has gone up by just over 1% - or £50,000 - in my view, that is simply not enough.

'Bus costs over the same period have risen by 15% and our transport co-ordination service struggles daily with difficult changes which bring with it extra demands which cannot be met.

'The Government will not be pleased to find out that a third of the one million pounds it has given the county council for our rural bus network is being spent supporting existing services.'

Labour group leader Derek Bateman said: 'The buses issue has been the big talking point for the residents of Cheshire, particularly before last week's decision to set a Council Tax figure of 4.1%.

'We agree with that figure, however, believe that different priorities and a smarter use of resources should be at the fore so that the supported bus service budget could and should be properly funded.

'I have grave concerns that if these cuts in evening bus services take place, that more commercial routes could be de-registered.'

The last bus

Details of the proposed withdrawals affecting Chester passengers are:

EVENING SERVICES

Route 84/85 Chester-Hanley-Crewe

Proposal: Withdrawal of 2010, 2110, 2210 and 2250 buses from Chester, 1830, 1930, 2030, 2130 and 2230 buses from Hanley and the 1845 bus from Crewe. All run Monday to Saturday.

Operated by Arriva North West, cost £43,969 a year, 40,000 passenger trips a year, average of 133 a day. Places affected include: Great Boughton, Littleton, Christleton, Cotton Edmunds, Tarvin, Duddon, Clotton Hoofield, Tarporley, Tiverton, Alpraham, Beeston, Bunbury, Calveley, Wardle, Burland and onwards to Crewe and Hanley.

Alternative: Limited rail service available for passengers travelling between Chester and Crewe.

Route 21 Chester-Runcorn.

Proposal: Withdrawal of 1910, 2110 and 2300 buses from Chester and the 2010 and 2210 buses from Runcorn. All run Monday to Saturday.

Operated by Halton Traveller, cost £21,529 a year, 9,000 passenger trips a year, average of 30 a day.

Places affected include: Mickle Trafford, Dunham Hill, Helsby, Frodsham.

Alternative: Limited rail service for passengers living in Helsby, Frodsham and Runcorn.

Routes 1, 2, 2A Chester-Blacon/Saughall.

Proposal: Withdrawal of services after 2045 Monday to Saturday and Sunday evening services after 1830. Operated by Chester City Transport, included in a contract involving other services in the city which costs £31,378 a year and attracts 40,000 passenger trips a year, average of 133 a day.

Routes 4, 5 and 6 Chester-Christleton Huntington/Whitchurch Road circular. Proposal: Withdrawal of services after 2045 Monday to Saturday and Sunday evening services after 1830. Operated by Chester City Transport, included in a contract involving other services in the city which costs £31,378 a year and attracts 40,000 passenger trips a year, average of 133 a day.

Places affected: Huntington, Great Boughton, Whitchurch Road, Christleton.

Alternatives: Some on services 41, 41A. Route 8 Chester-Lache.

Proposal: Withdrawal of services after 2045 Monday to Saturday and Sunday evening services after 1830. Operated by Chester City Transport, included in a contract involving other services in the city which costs £31,378 a year and attracts 40,000 passenger trips a year, average of 133 a day.

Alternative: Some on service 16 and also on bus services to North Wales through Saltney.

Route 10 Vicars Cross.

Proposal: Withdrawal of services after 2045 Monday to Saturday and Sunday evening services after 1830. Operated by Chester City Transport, included in a contract involving other services in the city which costs £31,378 a year and attracts 40,000 passenger trips a year, average of 133 a day.

DAYTIME SERVICES

Route 64 Chester - Beeston.

Proposal: Withdrawal of the 1735 from Chester bus exchange to Beeston Smithy and the 0735 from Beeston Smithy to the bus exchange Monday to Friday. Operated by Arrowebrook Coaches, costs £21,796 a year, attracts 7,250 passenger trips a year, average of 29 a day. Cost per passenger trip £3.00.

Places affected include: Beeston, Bunbury, Bickerton, Burwardsley, Bulkeley, Tattenhall, Rowton, Waverton, Christleton, Great Boughton.

Alternative: Rural Bus Challenge services from next month (March), 41 and 41A.

Route L2 Chester-Beeston-Nantwich

Proposal: Withdrawal of 1750 bus from Chester and 0720 bus from Nantwich.

Operated by Arriva Cymru, costs £10,083 a year and attract 5,750 passenger trips a year, average of 23 a day. Cost per passenger trip £1.75.

Places affected include: Beeston, Bunbury, Tiverton, Tarporley, Dutton, Tarvin, Cotton Edmunds, Christleton, Littleton, Great Boughton.

Alternative: Rural Bus Challenge services from next month (March), 84.

Route 33 Chester - Elton/Ince.

Proposal: Withdrawal of 0908 bus from Elton to Chester and 1440 bus back to the village which run Monday to Friday.

Operated by Chester City Transport, costs £4,082 year and attracts 1,768 passenger trips a year, average of seven a day.

Cost per passenger trip £2.30. Places affected include: Ince, Elton, Thornton Le Moors, Mickle Trafford.

Alternative: For most passengers by changing buses at Ellesmere Port.

Route: Chester - Little Neston

Proposal: Withdrawal of Friday only service (two journeys). Operated by Arrowebrook Coaches, costs £6,513 a year and attracts 1,040 passenger trips a year, average of 20 a day.

Cost per passenger trip £6.26. Alternative: 22 and 22A and Dial a Ride.

SUNDAY EVENING SERVICES

Route 53 Chester-Kingsway.

Proposal: Withdrawal of Sunday and Bank Holiday return services which leave Chester half hourly from 1855 to 2125 and at 2245.

Operated by First, contract costs £14,900 a year. Alternative: None.

Route 51 Chester-Plas Newton.

Proposal: Withdrawal of Sunday and Bank Holiday return services which leave Chester half hourly from1900 to 2200 and at 2245.

Operated by First, no contract cost indicated. Alternatives: None.

Route 21/31 Chester-Widnes and Warrington.

Proposal: Withdrawal of Sunday and Bank Holiday services from Chester at 1910, 2010, 2110 and 2240, from Widnes at 1859 and 2107 and from Warrington at 1955 and 2155. Operated by Halton Transport, no contract costs indicated. Alternative: Limited rail service.

Route 411, 412 Chester-Ellesmere Port-Birkenhead.

Proposal: withdrawal of Sunday and Bank Holiday services from Chester half-hourly from 2005 to 2235, from Birkenhead half hourly from 1859 to 2129.

Operated by Arriva Merseyside, no contract cost indicated. places affected include: Backford, Upton, Mollington. Alternative: Ltd rail service, also 1.

Route 16 Chester-Saltney.

Proposal: withdrawal of Sunday and Bank Holiday return services from Chester at 1925, 2025, 2125, 2225 and

2325. Operated by Chester City Transport, no contract costs indicated.

Alternative: Arriva service along main road.

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