Posted: 20.07.21 at 18:22 by Belinda Ryan - Local Democracy Reporter
Cheshire East is in the bottom 10 local authority areas for people using buses and the council is looking at ways to improve this.
The figure was revealed at Monday’s highways and transport committee meeting when councillors were discussing the national bus strategy (NBS).
The strategy provides opportunities to address the challenges facing local bus networks alongside a set of obligations for local transport authorities to establish enhanced partnerships [with commercial providers] and produce bus service improvement plans.
Richard Hibbert, the council’s head of strategic transport and parking, said across the borough there was low bus ridership and, ‘on average, a resident in Cheshire East makes 13 trips per year by bus’.
“That places us in the lowest 10 local authorities in the country in terms of bus ridership, so if we take a positive view there is plenty to build around those numbers,” said Mr Hibbert.
“We’re looking to build a plan that has the support of this committee, all of the stakeholders in the bus sector, particularly passenger groups, but it will also need to have the support of the commercial bus industry and that will be a difficult circle to square.”
Cllr Don Stockton said private operators would always look at the commercially viable routes, which are urban.
“Our difficulty is, in Cheshire East we have a lot of rural areas and there’s a significant lack of people to use these services,” said the Conservative councillor, who represents Wilmslow Lacey Green.
“While I absolutely support the fact that we should all be using buses more often… I would like to see this council prioritise the rural bits, whereby you are actually providing a service to those that genuinely need it.”
Andrew Ross, director of highways and infrastructure, replied: “The government are investing in rural mobility and the council was successful recently in a bid for rural mobility funding to support a new initiative for a bus service in a rural area, and that’s in development now, and I see future investment if that were to be successful.”
Committee vice-chair Laura Crane (Sandbach Ettiley Heath and Wheelock, Lab) suggested high bus fares put some people off using public transport.
“[That] is the one big frustration here, that we haven’t been given the ability to negotiate on price, because you’re not going to choose to get on a bus if it’s going to cost you more than £10 travelling to your nearest town. As a one-off you’re not going to do it,” said Cllr Crane.
“If you have to have a car to get elsewhere then you’re going to get in the car and drive to that town.
“I really hope, in a future iteration, we’re able to negotiate on price because I think that’s the way we will persuade people that it’s an option they can work with.”
Cllr Phil Williams (Alsager, Lib Dem) said the committee should identify some key priority areas such as hospitals and other services.
Councillors agreed the recommendations to endorse the commitment to an enhanced partnership for local buses; approve the development of a bus service improvement plan, in consultation with bus operators, passenger groups and other stakeholders from across the borough and to set up a member advisory panel.
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