A FREE bus transporting more than half a million commuters into the city centre is to be replaced, costing the council almost £100,000 every year.
After more than 15 years passengers arriving at Chester Railway Station will be forced to pay to get into the city centre as the free bus link comes to an end and is replaced by a commercial bus service.
Now, less than two weeks before the £1 commercial charge comes into place, Cllr David Robinson has slated the decision, which will cost Cheshire West and Chester Council more than £60,000 extra every year as it forks out to refund the company for elderly and disabled passengers.
He says it will see a decline in people using public transport within the city centre.
Cllr Robinson, who acts as Labour’s transport spokesman, said the free link, which was set up by the council in partnership with train companies Virgin, Northern Rail, Arriva Trains Wales and Merseyrail, had acted as a vital service to both local people and visitors.
He said: “For 15 years Chester rail users have benefited from one of the best integrated transport links in the country.
“More than half a million people a year use the free bus service between the station and the city centre. Rail users enjoyed a free bus every six minutes from the station to the heart of the city centre operating throughout the day.
“Commuters and visitors from throughout Cheshire West and throughout the country really valued this efficient transport link. But now, faced with a charge, usage is bound to decline.
“Ironically, the council may be faced with a higher bill as it refunds the cost to the operator of carrying bus pass users.”
The free bus link will be replaced by the £1 fee when the contract between Cheshire West and Chester Council (CWaC) and the rail companies comes to an end on November 21 and is replaced by a commercial service provided by Aintree.
CWaC will be forced to pay more than £60,000 more to support the new service, as it is expected to pay £100,000 a year, compared to £38,000 for the free link, to refund the company for concessionary discounts for elderly and disabled residents.
CWaC spokeswoman Laura Jones said the law did not allow the council to run a free service when a similar commercial service was operating in the area.
“The free service is not being withdrawn by the five partners however the law prevents a subsidised service to be provided where a similar commercial service operates,” she said.
On the new service up to two children will be able to travel free if with an adult, otherwise the fare will be 65p. Free or reduced fare travel will be available for those customers who are eligible and have valid concessionary travel.