ROCKETING bills from private transport operators are threatening county council-subsidised bus services across Cheshire.
The county council currently subsidises over 200 commercially unviable routes at an annual cost of £2.7m.
But tender increases averaging a swinging 35%, plus the withdrawal of seven major services by commercial operators have left the authority facing a projected overspend of £790,000 next year.
Just providing replacements for those seven daytime routes has added an extra £316,500 to the bill.
The council's executive has now 'reluctantly' decided to consult on the possible closure of 20 contracts for thinly patronised evening services in an attempt to claw back £430,000 a year.
And a further 18 daytime services costing the council more than £2 per passenger trip are also to be reviewed.
Council leader Paul Findlow said: 'Quite frankly the bus operators have left us between a rock and a very, very hard place indeed.
'We have been forced into the extremely unenviable situation of considering what amounts to the lesser of two evils.
'In other words the sacrifice of evening routes to save more popular day services.
Cllr Findlow stressed that there was no recognition in Government funding for these financial pressures.
He added: 'Some might say that the answer was simply to raise council tax - but we don't believe for one moment that our council taxpayers would agree with that particular argument.
'We are left with the alternative of stopping evening services - which, in the main are poorly used - to retain threatened day-time buses - most of which take people to work or school.'
The executive decided to launch a full consultation to discover public reaction to the withdrawal of the council-supported evening services across the county.
Members of the public, other local authorities, transport operators and Area Public Transport Advisory Committees will be asked for their views.
Even if members decide to press ahead with the withdrawal of services following consultation, no action could be taken before next March.
The executive decided to defer any discussion about the future of evening Dial-a-Ride services and Women's Safe Transport pending a full report on the current situation.