‘Stark cuts’ in number of Biggleswade bus services announced

Central Bedfordshire Council has come under fire as “stark” cuts in the number of bus services for Biggleswade, Sandy and Potton have been announced.

Residents are feeling frustrated because as of September 30, after a recent retendering process, there will be a reduced timetable for the Centrebus 85/85A town service in Biggleswade, as well as the 188/190 bus routes between Sandy, Blunham, Everton, Gamlingay, Potton, and Biggleswade.

The Biggleswade Town service is to be “drastically” reduced with a service every two hours for most of the day, while it will also be starting much later – around 8am rather than 6am - and finishing earlier. It’s last stop will be 6.49pm rather than 8.34pm.

The 188/190 route will also lose the following services: 5.40am Potton to Sandy; 6.02am Potton to Sandy (via Gamlingay and Everton); 6.30am Biggleswade to Sandy; 6.31am Sandy to Biggleswade (via Gamlingay and Potton); 7.06am Sandy to Biggleswade (via Gamlingay and Potton); 7.20am Biggleswade to Sandy.

Julian Vaughan, chair of the North East Bedfordshire Labour Party, claimed: “The response from people has been: ‘I can’t believe they are cutting more buses!’

“Fewer buses increase the risk of social isolation, particularly for the elderly who don’t have cars and can’t get about. The scale is quite stark.

“It’s also shocking that, to my knowledge, there was little if any consultation with the residents.

“CBC recently announced its climate change policy - with great fanfare – and if we are to cut CO2 emissions we will have to reduce our dependence on the car.”

He also wished to remined readers that in July, at the LGA Annual Conference, Leader of CBC Cllr James Jamieson, said: “More buses and more cycleways and footpaths will prevent people being isolated”.

Potton Independent councillor Adam Zerny said: “In 2016, CBC attended a public meeting in Potton and agreed to retain buses which would allow at least one departure from Potton to Sandy, and to Biggleswade, before 8am. I have made it clear to the council that it needs to make good on its promises.

“CBC has provided me with statistics which show the buses to Sandy that are being removed carry an average of 1.2 passengers per journey, but passengers tell me this is not the case.

“I have suggested to CBC that they should not assume these low usage figures mean people do not want to use buses.

“The fact the old bus timetable did not tie-in with trains into and out of London either in the morning or the evening, did not encourage people to use the services.”

Other notable changes to the 188/190 route include: The first bus for Gamlingay to Sandy will now be at 7.33am rather than 6.13am; the first bus from Potton to Sandy will now be at 7.25am rather than 5.40am; the first through bus from Sandy to Hitchin will now be the 7.58am rather than 6.31am; Blunham and Moggerhanger lose their early morning 8.12am/8.17am service with the first 188 service going through these villages at 10.10am/10.16am.

Councillor Ian Dalgarno, Executive Member for Community Services at CBC, said: “We are committed to supporting public transport.

“Research suggests that services run outside of the hours of 8am and 6.30pm on weekdays and between 8am and 3pm on Saturdays are poorly used and not economic. This is why our passenger transport policies (on which we fully consulted the public in 2016) commits the authority to support services which run within these hours.

“Evidence from the 188/190 early morning services (from 5.40am) suggests that these services have been running on average for one or two passengers,.

“Bus services will continue to operate to Biggleswade from Potton, Sandy, Blunham, Moggerhanger, Dunton and Eyeworth before 9am (daily). We are confident that their impact will be minor.

“Lastly, it is not accurate to say that the council has cut its funding to the 85/85A Biggleswade town service which has previously been supported from developer funding from the Kings Reach and Potton Road developments. This funding has now ended.

“As is our standard approach when this happens, we offered the route to other providers through our retendering process and Centrebus, as the successful bidder, will continue to run this route between 8am and 6.30pm on weekdays and between 8am and 3pm on Saturdays, now funded by the council directly. None of the bidders were able to offer to run a commercially viable service.”

A Centrebus spokesman, said: “We are the contractor of bus services 85/85A and 188/189 which we operate on behalf of CBC, we were not involved in the decision making of the number of journeys.”