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No Night Service

No Night ServiceAfter our introductory article 'Bus Background' and the article about the sudden disappearance of the No 80 bus service, we're now taking a look at the plan by Lancashire County Council to remove the subsidy to many bus services in the evenings and weekends.

In effect this is likely to mean the complete loss of bus services in the evenings and at weekends, because if these services were commercially viable, someone would be running them already.

The loss of this subsidy means there will be no bus operations in many rural areas at nights, weekends, and bank holidays after April.

That situation will also have a knock-on effect on the viability of daytime services, because the fixed costs of operating the remaining bus services will become spread over a smaller operation - and this will decrease the profitability of daytime services, potentially making some daytime services commercially unviable - as well as the loss of evenings and weekend services.

So we think the loss of nights and weekend services could see unexpected cuts in daytime services as well.

And if the fuss caused when the 80 Service collapsed is anything to go by, there will be a very big fuss made, if other daytime services vanish.

Readers might wonder how we got to this sorry state - especially when you see the lofty ideals for public transport that the Government has.

The two parties forming the coalition had strong disagreements about operating bus services. The Liberal Democrats were generally in favour of more regulation of the bus industry, whilst the Conservatives opposed schemes to re-regulate bus networks. They say regulation prevents free competition between bus operators, and that undermines service quality for passengers and jeopardises the partnerships between operators and local authorities that have helped to improve service quality.

But the one thing they could agree on was that they would " ... encourage joint working between bus operators and local authorities".

So in March 2012 the government published its green paper on the future of the bus industry. It aspired to have more punctual, inter-connected services, an even greener and more fully wheelchair and buggy-accessible fleet, and the widespread availability of smart ticketing.

Key to the changes was a reform in the way Bus Service Operators Grant (BSOG) was paid.

This is a subsidy to operators that makes more services viable, and it offers support for other improvements such as multi-operator ticketing schemes.

The main point of the subsidy reform - particularly Bus Service Operators' Grant (BSOG) was to devolve its administration to local authorities to encourage more innovation and partnership working. For example one of the improvements suggested is that local authorities should have access to revenue and patronage information about commercial routes (i.e. those not under a subsidised contract) if they are deregistered, and can make that information available to other companies looking to bid for a contract to run the route instead.

There is also great play made about measures to encourage the use of 'greener' buses and to get more people out of cars and onto buses and a whole load of motherhood and apple pie measures that are self evidently good.

But when you contrast those measures with what's really happening on the ground, you find a huge mis-match.

You find councils - like LCC - across the country cutting back on services to save money, and doing things that will achieve the exact opposite of the Government's stated aims.

Most of the reason for this is that local government budgets are subject to savage spending reductions.

LCC has committed to try to achieve a saving over 200 million by 31 March 2014. (They're actually targeting 220m from an overall budget for 2013/14 of 776 million)

Even worse, the government is asking for further savings - estimated for Lancashire to be ANOTHER 300m - between 2014 and 2018.

If that happens with no tax increase in the interim, LCC's spending will have gone from around 800 million to just 300 million by 2018.

That is draconian in anyone's book.

It is said to be part of the Government's need to reduce public spending, and whilst that's right, we can't help thinking there is also an ideological drive from Government to reduce the scale and scope of government spending even if/when the economy 'gets back to normal. (Whatever 'normal' is)

LCC has been spending around 8 million of its budget each year subsidising bus travel. The reductions above will cut that by about 1.82m next year and there are plans to cut another 2m or so a year later by only focusing subsidy only on *essential* daytime routes (whatever they are).

That will take 3.8 million out of an 8 million budget. You can see there's going to be trouble over this.

So the Government's need to cut back, and to have us spend within our means, translates into bus service (and other) cuts in Lancashire because - as LCC say, the only way the huge savings can be achieved is looking at reducing costs and reshaping the delivery of existing services.

We might have something of an issue about what are, and are not, priorities for some of their spending.  (For a start we would not have gone along with the entirely wasteful scheme by former County highways chief and Fylde Borough Councillor 'Dim Tim'  - a scheme continued by the present Labour administration -  which will see 9.2 Million wasted installing 20 mph signs across Lancashire.  That would have run all the bus subsidies for another year).

But then, everyone will have a different idea of priority, and these *are* the people we chose to make these decisions.

We understand the decisions have already caused some ructions in the areas affected.

For example we understand that at Warton Parish Council there was a proposal to object to the LCC cuts in the bus services. But we were told that Conservative parish councillors refused to back the objection.

At first, you wonder why that might be, but if your party supports the cuts, and if you have voted for the cuts at County Hall, it must be difficult for people like Conservative County Councillor Paul Rigby to vote to object to them at a Parish Council meeting where he is also a Parish Councillor.

So what's happening to the buses?

Well, until tomorrow (Friday 18 January), LCC is consulting on its plans to reduce its supported bus network with evening and Sunday services under threat of withdrawal from May 2014. We suspect they will accept late objections as well, because their budget meeting isn't until February.

The full list of cuts is at the LCC website proposals page but in Fylde the affected services are

42 LANCASTER - GARSTANG - POULTON - BLACKPOOL via Galgate - Great Eccleston

68 PRESTON - LYTHAM - ST. ANNES - BLACKPOOL via Lea - Freckleton - Warton

75 BLACKPOOL - POULTON - KIRKHAM - PRESTON via Victoria Hospital - Singleton - Weeton - Newton - Lea

78 WESHAM - KIRKHAM - LYTHAM - ANSDELL - ST.ANNES via Lower Lane - Freckleton - Warton - Forest Drive - Heyhouses Lane

80 PRESTON - POULTON - (BLACKPOOL) via Cadley - Inskip - Elswick - Gt Eccleston - (Victoria Hospital) (note: this service probably depends what happens after the demise of the Classic Bus operation)

There are separate lists on the LCC website for: Lancaster; Wyre; Ribble Valley; into Blackpool; Fylde; Preston; South Ribble; West Lancashire; Chorley; into Blackburn with Darwen; Hyndburn; Burnley; Pendle; and Rossendale.

That's going to leave an awful lot of people in the Fylde (and the rest of Lancashire) with no buses in the evenings and at weekends and on public holidays.

After considering the consultation comments, LCC's plans will be finalised, then taken to be discussed at a full council Cabinet meeting in February.

One the few crumbs on the positive side is that LCC has said they will put 500,000 into community transport ('dial a bus' type operations for the most seriously affected people with the greatest need).

If you want to make a comment on the proposals you can email: lcc.bus.services@lancashire.gov.uk

Or contact: Bus & Supported Transport Manager
Lancashire County Council
Room D3, PO Box 100
County Hall, Preston
PR1 0LD

and you should do this as soon as possible.

We have to admit that we really struggle with this issue.

We absolutely support the need to reduce public spending so as a country we're not spending money we don't have, and we simply have to stop borrowing money for our 'living expenses'.

But equally, we support the need to get more people onto buses and even more importantly, to have a bus service available to get children to school and to evening activities, and teenagers to and from college. We also think that giving non-driving adults access to medical services and shopping is crucial.

And with GP's being encouraged to offer evening appointments, this plan goes entirely the wrong way.

Furthermore, although some might think - "Well, its only evenings and weekend services that are affected, and people can re-arrange things to cope with it"  - it's not as straightforward as you might think.

If you're either part time, or in the lower earnings range, buses will be quite likely to play an important part in your life. For example, if you are a zero hours contract shiftworker at McDonalds earning money to go to university, or if you work shifts at a call centre (which many do nowadays), or if you work at one of the Supermarkets, you're very likely to need a bus to get to work when your shift starts, and businesses and shops nowadays don't have the traditional 5 day 35 hour Monday to Friday week.

So we could see people either having to move home or losing their jobs because of these changes.

That's really awful for people who are trying to get on with their lives.

And the part of all this that we find really difficult to grasp is how, when those of us with grey hair were younger, this country managed to run proper public services without it costing us a fortune in the past.

As so often, the answer is going to be a mixture of things - it now costs more because of the requirements of things like health and safety legislation, and there are, of course, more of us making demands on services, and we're spending money on a much wider range of medical and educational service than could ever have been envisaged years ago.

We can see that the County Council is using a form of logic for its decisions. It is (for the most part) protecting services the law requires it to provide, and it is cutting in those services it is not legally obliged to provide.

We also recognise they are seeking to protect the most vulnerable in society.

But if our society is going to arrive at the place where this road is leading, it's probably time for a more fundamental think about how society is organised.

There will be many individuals that suffer hardship as a result of these changes, but he longer term implications of bus cuts will also impact.

For example: we figure now would be a good time to set up as a taxi business in parts of rural Fylde as car-less people want to get about in the evening but won't be able to go on a bus. Mobile shops might make a come-back too.

It might also augur well for the more local provision of services - if the cuts continue, we might see village shops (and perhaps pubs) re-appearing as people are unable to get into town to do their shopping.

But the law of unintended consequences could well come into play here, as we see town centres continuing to decline as the buses that brought people in for an evening out, or for weekend shopping, no longer bring them.

Finally, we think that possibly the most interesting 'technical' unintended consequence could be that places which are currently served by buses, and which lose that service (or part of it) will have grounds to claim they are no longer 'accessible' in planning parlance, and that could well affect the appropriateness of allocating new housing to such villages.

Dated:   16 January 2014


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