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Vital bus services roll on after urgent council talks

Vital bus services roll on after urgent council talks

19 August 2022
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photo of a Reading Buses service parked in Wokingham town centre

SEVERAL key bus links whose futures were in doubt have been saved until at least next spring by Wokingham Borough Council.


As part of its commitment to supporting active and sustainable travel, the authority has agreed to subsidise alternative routes through villages south of the M4 which are currently served by Reading Buses' Tiger 7 and Leopard 3, 8 and 9.


Its decision-making executive voted on 8 August to extend its contract with Reading Buses until 31 March 2023, rescuing much-needed services connecting Reading and Wokingham town with Shinfield, Swallowfield, Arborfield and other communities in the borough’s rural south.


Buses have been hit hard by the covid-19 pandemic, with passenger numbers still almost 25 per cent lower than in 2019 as operating costs like fuel prices rise. There is no clear future support from the Government, and funding from legal agreements with housing developers will eventually run out, so the challenge of saving them ultimately lies with councils, operators and other partners.


Ensuring communities stay connected


Funding for the Tiger 7 was due to expire next month but the council recognised the importance of keeping it going as it works with Reading Buses, the University of Reading and Swallowfield and Shinfield Parish Councils to identify a longer-term solution. Similar discussions have taken place with the operator and the university about the Leopard 3, 8 and 9.


Under the extended contract, which will be funded with developer money, the 7 and 8 will become a revised extension of the Mereoak Park and Ride 600 service with two hourly buses running about 30 minutes apart. These will start early and finish late from Monday to Saturday.


One will pass through Swallowfield, Spencers Wood and Three Mile Cross before travelling along the A33 into Reading, while the other will run from Reading to Three Mile Cross and Spencers Wood and then onto Thames Valley Science Park in Shinfield via Hyde End Road and Fullbrook Avenue. Routes will be clearly signed on the front of each bus.


The Leopard 3 timetable will also be adjusted so that students leaving after-school clubs at Bohunt School in Arborfield can catch the bus into Wokingham town. Once this extension ends, the contract will be put out to re-tender.


These changes come into effect on 5 September and will be accompanied by a small increase in fares across the network, typically up to 20p on a single trip and 40p on a return, with tickets remaining cheaper through the Reading Buses app and a range of daily and weekly saver tickets also available.


The operator says this is necessary to remain viable given the industry’s challenges, but its fares remain among the lowest in the country and it has previously frozen certain fares where possible.


Safe for now – but we still need your help


Cllr Paul Fishwick, executive member for active travel, transport and highways, said: “This is a short-term measure, but an important one considering the significant number of residents who would have been affected by losing these services.


“We're delighted to have kept them going for now and would like to thank everyone who worked hard to investigate different options to make this possible - including our own officers, Reading Buses and Swallowfield and Shinfield parish councils, all of whom played a very active role.


“Buses are a crucial part of the bigger picture when it comes to reducing car use - particularly in rural areas like those south of the M4, where they provide a vital link between villages and to jobs, shops and services in bigger towns.


“By enabling and encouraging their use, we can improve air quality and reduce carbon emissions to help tackle the climate emergency. This will also improve people's health while addressing inequality and rising living costs by offering a genuinely affordable way of getting around.”


Cllr Fishwick said the council would keep fighting for bus services but they were more likely to survive if passenger numbers increased to a healthier level. He added: “I would urge as many people as possible to travel by bus - it's safe, affordable, convenient and far less polluting than driving.


“Buses will be even more needed in years to come, which is why we're doing all we can to meet this challenge. But if we don't all play our part to keep them afloat now, we may suddenly find it's too late.”


Promoting all possible alternatives to driving


The council has also extended the B1 school bus serving Bohunt School in Arborfield, allowing students who would previously have used Reading Buses’ 93 service to continue benefiting from public transport to school.


It is lobbying South Western Railway to work with Network Rail and others to improve journey times between Wokingham borough stations and London Waterloo, which studies say is feasible.


It is about to finish consulting on its Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plan, a high-level plan for improvements covering the next decade or so, as well as the proposed active travel route from Woodley town centre to Palmer Park in Reading, and it continues to invest in a network of typically traffic-free "greenways" linking key destinations in the borough.


As well as seeking to provide more opportunities for active travel, the council promotes its benefits and helps people learn the necessary skills to take it up through its My Journey Wokingham team.

For more information, including a local bus journey planner, visit the My Journey Wokingham website.

More from Wokingham Borough Council 

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