PARK and ride operator First has been slammed for putting “old bangers” on a prestigious city commuter route.
Council bosses say they pleaded in vain with First to bring back state of the art buses bought partly with taxpayers’ cash in 2006 on the George park and ride service.
The original buses were transferred to First’s operations elsewhere in the country and eventually replaced with models used at the 2012 London Olympics.
But, in the latest blow for park and ride customers, the company has now transferred these buses to its Tavistock route and replaced them with older models.
Since October 27 buses on the George park and ride service have run every 12 minutes during the daytime compared to every 10 minutes.
Cllr Mark Coker, the city’s Cabinet member for transport, said: “We are very dissatisfied with First lowering the quality of vehicles and reducing the frequency of buses on the city’s park and ride routes.”
“We are now arranging a meeting with the new managing director of First Devon and Cornwall to express our extreme disappointment and try to find a more acceptable way forward.”
Reader Frank Biscoe from Widewell, who drew The Herald’s attention to the move, said: “If the council and the people of Plymouth fail to make their voices heard, our state of the art, eco-friendly park and ride facility will become just another run of the mill bus station served by First Group’s less comfortable old bangers which have been to the moon and back.”
Alex Carter, director for First Devon and Cornwall, said: “As a commercial operator, we carefully review the supply and demand for our services and try as best we can to allocate our vehicles where there is greatest demand.
“The buses now operating on the PR1 George services, which we operate on a purely commercial basis with no public funding, are good quality double deck vehicles.
“Indeed they are of a comparable age and similar quality to the original fleet to which Mr Biscoe refers.”
The company spokeswoman said they were all 2006 or 2008 Alexander Dennis double deckers.
A council spokeswoman said some of the original 2006 buses were paid for with Department for Transport grant funding and others were paid for by First.
“The council had the choice of taking the grant-funded buses back at the end of the contract in 2010 or allowing First to buy them, which it did.”
The commercial operation has saved the council about £390,000 in subsidy costs over the past three years.
“We expected First to see the commercial benefits of retaining the park and ride buses, with their distinctive branding, on these routes,” a council spokeswoman said. “Unfortunately, First decided to move them elsewhere in the country.
“It was only after the council intervened, by protesting to First’s chief executive, that the company brought in the 2012 vehicles.”
These too have now been taken off the park and ride services and are competing with Citybus on the Tavistock route.
Cllr Coker said: “The council’s chief executive and I wrote to Tim O’Toole, chief executive of First Group, asking for the changes to be reversed but our request was rejected. In the meantime we are in discussions with First about re-introducing a clear branding on park and ride services.”
Report from the Plymouth Herald