Cuts that hurt: number 372

5 July 2011

Today marked the end – maybe the beginning of the end.

Cuts to bus subsidies from Devon CC mean that from tomorrow Buckland Brewer and surrounding villages will be served by one bus a day. The early morning and mid afternoon service will not run during the Petroc College summer holiday.

Devon’s rationale is simple. Outside of college term time there are not enough fare paying passengers to make the service viable. Simple, except that having not seen the figures there is no way to tell how many passengers short the service is from viability.

So, if you don’t have access to a car and can’t afford a taxi, forget a day trip to Barnstaple. If you’re a one car family, you’ll have to do more planning and probably more driving.

In the past, I used the bus at least five times a week. Currently, I’m doing just one Barnstaple to Buckland journey a week though circumstance might mean more journeys in the future. From next week, I can get to Bideford, but will need a lift onwards.

Sure, we’re lucky to have a daily service at all. And, who knows, there’s other priorities in time’s of spending cuts. But, it makes many people that much worse off. It also threatens the long term viability of the service. Degrading a service often creates a downward spiral making that service less and less attractive and less viable.

But, there’s some good news. Operator, Beacon Bus,  and the five parish councils served by the 372 have come to an agreement. Beacon has promised to run one extra journey from Barnstaple at the later time. The councils have promised to meet any shortfall in passenger revenue to make the service break even.

That’s a good, pragmatic agreement.

On the other hand, might this be the thin end of a wedge that sees more and more spending obligations fall to parishes?

Wouldn’t you know it, there nearly was no “last bus”. The bus suffered a breakdown on its inward journey to Barnstaple and those of us left at the bus station had to wait 40 minutes.  With great sadness the 372 struggled up Orleigh Hill one more time in hazy late afternoon sunshine.

Bye-bye bus. See you in September.


Farewell then, Tony the bus

10 March 2011

Cuts hit hardest in rural areas. It’s not just the services that we’ll miss. It’s the people too.

Yesterday was one of my now infrequent journeys back on the village bus. The bus timetable is fine for college kids, but not for the 37-hour week so my journeys are increasing irregular.

I boarded and greeted Tony, our long serving driver. Come rain, shine, school holiday, Tony drives the bus. (He does get time off, but you get the picture.)

Everyone knows Tony. All the old dears, who rely on the bus for shopping trips to Morrisons in Bideford or an excursion to Barnstaple, know Tony. The college kids get to know Tony. They even have his mobile phone number so they can check if the bus will be running when the snows or ice come.

I know Tony. He knew who I was within days of me using the bus even though I never introduced myself.

Tony and his ilk keep rural Britain running, brightening up someone’s day or not if you’re a driver trying to sneak pass him on a narrow country lane.

Yesterday, Tony told me that it was his last day driving the bus: “you’ll need to break in a new driver tomorrow.”

As previously reported here, our bus faces a drastic pruning. In true cuts fashion, the original stark scenario has been altered. But, still the cuts come and will likely get worse later in the year when the route comes up for tender.

We’re losing the peak time service in school holidays and possibly both daily services over the summer.

The altered hours make Tony’s position untenable. He’s moving to a different route, one less vulnerable than ours.

He’ll no longer get goodie bags from dear Audrey – pasties and bread pudding. No more village gossip. No more sneaky detours on a Friday afternoon. No more free rides when he can’t be bothered to reboot his fare machine.

So long, Tony.

Come in no. 372, your time is up

27 January 2011

As I’ve feared since moving here…

I’m having difficulty finding the details online, but from the print version of today’s North Devon Journal, it appears that our village bus service has been severely hit as part of cuts to subsidised services. The service now looks untenable.

Not much detail available on the Devon CC website either.

Currently, the bus – Beacon service no. 372 – operates three daily round trips between Bradworthy and Barnstaple. Two of those journeys call at all the villages between Bradworthy and Bideford, including Buckland. It sound like the early morning out and mid afternoon service is for the chop.

I’ve used the service off and on over the last four years. It’s used mostly by  Petroc college students who will now get a dedicated coach there and back. The public services looks like it will be reduced to one service a day, Monday to Friday.

I can cope. But our older population, of course, will suffer.

Reducing the service makes it less convenient, less attractive. This will lead to fewer users. Ultimately, in a matter of months, I can see the service will no longer be viable.

You live in a village, you expect reduced access to services. But, when you lose what services you have, it’s a bigger blow. In the last five years, we’ve lost our post office, shop and Saturday bus service. Losing the last link to town is a kick in the teeth.

All the more reason for a community shop