Buses set for axe to balance budget

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THIRTEEN supported bus services are facing the axe as councillors prepare to approve next year’s budget.

Hartlepool Borough Council looks set to withdraw £287,000 worth of funding for 12 supported bus services in town for routes that operators Stagecoach and Arriva say are not viable.

The H1 service, operated by Compass Royston, between the University Hospital of Hartlepool and the University Hospital of North Tees, in Stockton, is also facing the axe to save a further £85,000.

It means passengers in some parts of town will be left without a bus service after 6.30pm or on a weekend, while residents in Dalton Piercy will be unable to get on an evening bus into Hartlepool.

The proposals come as the council is faced with slashing about £20m from its £90m budget over the next four years due to national spending cuts.

The last day that subsidised services will operate is Saturday, March 26, if the full council rubber-stamps recommendations at a meeting tonight.

Officers have also proposed that the Dial-A-Ride service, which is used by elderly and disabled residents, be scrapped to save £209,000.

Robin Knight, commercial director of Stagecoach North East, said: “Following reductions in public transport funding, Hartlepool Borough Council has regrettably instructed us to withdraw the subsidised services as of Sunday, March 27.

“These services are contracted by the council and operated on their behalf by Stagecoach North East.  

“Please note, no Stagecoach commercial services in Hartlepool have been affected by these decisions and will continue as normal and more specifically, Services 6 and 7 will continue to operate on Friday and Saturday evenings and during the day on Sundays.

“We are keen to reassure our passengers that we will be notifying them of the changes on board our services and on our website following final written confirmation and authorisation from the council this Friday, February 11.”

John Fozzard, marketing manager at Arriva North East, said: “Services 5, 7 and 527 are run with financial support from Hartlepool Borough Council, who have decided to withdraw their support due to budget cuts.

“Unfortunately, the passenger numbers on these services are not enough for the routes to cover their costs without the support from the council.

“We’d like to thank our customers in Hartlepool who have used these services in the 18 months or so that we’ve operated them on behalf of the council.”

Labour councillor Pamela Hargreaves, the council’s portfolio holder for economic development and regeneration, said: “The proposed withdrawal of financial support for a number of bus services operating in the borough will save a total of £287,000 a year.

“The withdrawal of this support is being proposed with great reluctance, but it is an example of the stark choices that many local authorities are facing as they attempt to balance their budgets

“For years, the council has subsidised often highly-profitable bus companies to guarantee the provision of services that would otherwise be deemed uneconomic.

“We would now urge those companies to plough some of the money they are making into maintaining less profitable bus services.”

The full council is set to meet tonight at the Civic Centre, in Victoria Road, at 7pm.