Council 'keen' to push bus travel in Maidenhead

The Royal Borough is ‘keen’ to work with bus companies to address Maidenhead’s alarming low bus usage, a councillor has said.

Last week, a Maidenhead Town Forum meeting was told that the town has the second lowest bus usage in the country – only ahead of Rutland, the smallest county in England.

This is coupled with the town being in the top percentage of the country for car use.

General manager at Courtney Buses, Simon Fisher, told councillors about some of the factors halting the amount of bus passengers in the town.

Maidenhead’s affluence, cheap town centre parking and the lack of road priorities for buses were some of the reasons brought up by Mr Fisher.

Speaking to the Advertiser this week, deputy leader of the council Cllr Samantha Rayner (Con, Eton Wick) said the council is ready to listen to any ideas bus firms may have.

“Any ideas that [Mr Fisher] has – we are definitely keen to work with the bus companies,” she said.

“We all want people to use buses, it is less traffic on the roads.

“We will do everything we can to encourage [people].”

It was revealed at last week’s meeting that Courtney will be releasing an app to make it easier for passengers to plan their journeys.

Cllr Rayner added: “I think there is a huge way forward with technology that encourages people to use the services more.”

One potential problem is the council’s recent decision to ‘review and optimise the number of subsidised bus routes’ as part of its new draft budget, released last week.

The council subsidises a network of bus routes to supplement the commercial network, at a cost of about £850,000 a year.

It says that a ‘comprehensive review will be undertaken to evaluate usage patterns’ and ‘identify alternative options to deliver a more efficient network’.

The council says this new arrangement will save it up to £200,000 a year.

Cllr Rayner said: “[It is] re-allocation of services rather than cutting services. We will never cut services that are popular.

“Over time, people’s habits change, so it is quite right [to ask]: are we offering our residents value for money?”

Mr Fisher said: “We look forward to working with the borough to reverse the recent trends and promote travelling by bus as a viable alternative to using the car.

“Whilst we don’t operate all the services in Maidenhead, we do run many of them, and we have seen an ongoing decline in bus patronage in the borough over the past ten years, from 15.3 journeys per person to the current level of 9.3 journeys per person.

“In the same time that Royal Borough patronage has declined by 41 per cent, Buckinghamshire and Bracknell patronage has declined around 20 per cent and Wokingham has actually increased by 27 per cent over the last ten years.

“The reasons for declining bus patronage are varied, but in the Borough over 2/3 of our passengers are concessionary passholders.

“Certainly, a factor in low usage is connected to our routes often running only hourly, and this is obviously less attractive to persuade people out of their cars.

“Through this time, the Royal Borough has been supportive and subsidised many routes which would otherwise be cut back or cancelled altogether, whilst as a responsible bus operator we have also invested heavily in new low-floor low-emission accessible vehicles.

“We have introduced special low fares for young people aged 16-19 to try to encourage more usage from this critical age range, and we have brought contactless payment on all our vehicles. 

“The Royal Borough has declared a climate emergency, and part of that remit is of course to promote the benefits of public transport, in actions as well as speech.”

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