Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Rural bus service threat

‘Too many older people’ with free bus passes threatens future of Coasthopper, says boss

A popular coastal bus route is among a host of rural services under threat because there are too many people using it with a free bus pass, the firm’s boss claims. The Coasthopper service between Wells and North Walsham in north Norfolk is run by Sanders Coaches whose owner Charles Sanders said it may no longer be viable.

During early 2018 Sanders Coaches acquired ten Wright Eclipse Urban bodied Volvo B7RLE from Go-Ahead South Coast. Retaining blue and red livery their 'MORE' livery vinyls were applied as shown here on fleet number 509 on the approach to Cley-Next-the-Sea during September, on the eastern section between North Walsham/Cromer and Wells-Next-the-Sea.

In England you can get a bus pass for free travel when you reach the female state pension age, whether you’re a man or a woman. Mr Sanders is calling for more funding for the service from central government. He told BBC Radio Norfolk: “My company is badly disadvantaged by where we are based, as we are the second highest retirement area in the UK. Everyone is talking about the Coasthopper service, but I don’t care two hoots about that service. My whole network is at risk here; the whole lot could go. We’ve got routes that are 90pc concessionary bus fares. With only 20pc of my customers paying, there are 70 to 80pc I cannot get another penny from. We always try and provide enough capacity to cope with everybody but we want a fairer deal from central government. If it does not come through, then we could have to review our whole network.”

Norfolk County Council subsidises the route and Martin Wilby, chairman of the council’s environment, development and transport (EDT) committee, said: “We work very closely with all the bus operators across Norfolk. There are 188,000 bus passes and nine million journeys were taken using bus passes in the county last year. It costs the council £11.7m a year to reimburse bus companies for this. We get £8m from central government, so we have a shortfall of nearly £4m.” He added: “Bus passes are extremely important for elderly people, especially those living in rural areas who rely on public transport to go about their everyday lives such as going to the supermarket or visiting the doctor. This funding gap is not exclusive to Norfolk, it’s a national problem. But we’re not prepared to sit back and let it continue without a fight. It’s vital that we work closely with districts and bus operators to lobby central government. And I will be writing to all of our Norfolk MPs on behalf of EDT committee to spur them into carrying out a review.”

The Coasthopper bus service has operated on the Norfolk coast for more than 21 years.
It was re-launched in April with extended services through Overstrand, Trimingham and Mundesley and on to North Walsham.

The route, which passes through many otherwise isolated rural communities, had looked under threat after operator, Stagecoach East, announced it was slashing its Norfolk routes.

The previous incumbent of the Coasthopper route was Stagecoach East who operated the route out of their King's Lynn depot with a fleet of ten ADL E20D Enviro200 and six Optare Solo SR single-decks. One of the latter 48032 passes through the scenic village of Salthouse in September 2016.

But in March Sanders Coaches and King’s Lynn-based Lynx stepped in to run different parts of the route, with Lynx providing the service from Wells to King’s Lynn.

As Stagecoach withdrew Lynx of King's Lynn took on the western section of the route as far as Wells-Next-the-Sea, where one of their fleet of secondhand Optare Tempo single-decks was bound in April 2018. Number 6 in the fleet near Burnham Overy Staithe had originally operated with Marchants of Cheltenham.

Report from the Eastern Daily Press