Wokingham Borough Council’s new decision-making executive is facing some difficult decisions on the future of the borough’s buses. One of the administration’s key priorities is to provide good alternatives to the car to encourage more residents to walk, cycle and take the buses instead.
However, the covid-19 pandemic has hit bus operators particularly hard. While the Government has recognised this by providing almost £1million to support the borough’s bus services in recent years, that funding will come to an end in September and no additional budget was allocated by the previous administration to keep these services running.
Although bus use has recovered somewhat, as of May this year passenger numbers were still only about 77 per cent of pre-pandemic levels. Fuel and driver costs make up over 50 per cent of the operational costs of running a bus service, which makes the industry highly vulnerable to inflation.
With no clear future funding from the Government, the challenge to fund and maintain a financially sustainable network now rests with the council, local bus operators and other partners.
Greener and healthier travel
Cllr Paul Fishwick, newly appointed executive member for active travel, transport and highways, said: “We recognise the importance of local bus services to our residents and the role a good network plays in offering greener and healthier travel alternatives. This is an important part of reducing congestion, getting our residents more active and helping towards our climate emergency, which is another of our key priorities.
“We are working closely with local operators to find an effective solution to keep the buses running. No decisions have been made, but we are having to look at potential changes to several routes.”
Bus routes being reviewed
- The council has already committed council funding for the Tiger 7 to allow this service to run on its current timetable until September 2022 and is working with Reading Buses, the University of Reading and Swallowfield and Shinfield Parish Councils to find a longer-term solution. It is also having discussions with the university and Reading Buses about the Leopard 3, 8 and 9.
- The 19A, B and C have been particularly hard hit by the impacts of Covid, but will continue while the council reviews the services and looks at options for the future.
- The council is looking at potential alternatives for the 93 service serving Bohunt School in Arborfield Green, as Reading Buses has indicated that it is not viable to continue. It is also reviewing other school buses which have come to the end of their contracts for the next school year. It appreciates the importance of these services to the pupils who use them every day.
- Buses 121, 122/3, 124, 125A/B, 127, and 128/9 run by Thames Valley Buses will have their contracts extended to run until April 2023, if approved on Wednesday 13 July by an individual executive member decision. During this time, the contracts will be reviewed and retendered.
- The Lion 4/4X, Claret 21 and Orange 13/14 are commercial services run by Reading Buses, which made changes in April 2022. The council is not aware of any further changes.
Safe and convenient
The new leader of the council, Cllr Clive Jones said: “If we want to continue to have a good bus network, we need more people to use the buses. I urge residents to take the bus wherever they can as they are safe, convenient and far more beneficial to the environment than driving.”
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