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Suffolk County Council to put together bid for £50million to improve county's bus services, with hopes for cheaper fares and wider coverage, over next three years



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Suffolk County Council's cabinet has agreed it will form a £50million bid for Government cash to fund bus service improvements in the county over the next few years.

Upgrades planned in the county council's Bus Service Improvement Plan (BSIP) include ambitions for more joined-up services, multi-operator ticket options, cheaper fares, wider coverage and upgraded infrastructure.

As part of the Government's Bus Back Better scheme, Suffolk's bid will be for £50m over three years to fund the improvements - £15m each for the first two years and £20m for year three.

Suffolk County Council's cabinet has agreed it will form a £50million bid for Government cash to fund bus service improvements in the county over the next few years
Suffolk County Council's cabinet has agreed it will form a £50million bid for Government cash to fund bus service improvements in the county over the next few years

The authority's cabinet gave unanimous approval on Tuesday afternoon for lodging the bid.

It is not yet clear when the council will find out if its ask is successful or how much it will receive, but the Government has set aside £3billion nationally for the scheme.

Conservative cabinet member for economic development, transport and waste, Richard Smith, said: "An efficient bus network is key in providing a viable alternative to the private car and encouraging people on to public transport.

Conservative cabinet member for economic development, strategic highways, transport and waste at Suffolk County Council, Richard Smith. Picture: Suffolk County Council
Conservative cabinet member for economic development, strategic highways, transport and waste at Suffolk County Council, Richard Smith. Picture: Suffolk County Council

“Developing areas such as rural services, plus developing features like smart ticketing to improve the passenger experience, will help increase the use of public transport which in turn can reduce congestion in our towns and provide a cleaner and greener environment.

“Transport is a significant contributor to carbon emissions; increasing the use of sustainable transport will play an important role in achieving carbon reduction in Suffolk.”

The BSIP must be published and submitted to Government by the end of the month, with the delivery model for the improvements being in place by April next year.

That delivery model is called an enhanced partnership, which effectively sees operators and the council working closer together on developing services.

Suffolk County Council is based at Endeavour House
Suffolk County Council is based at Endeavour House

It aims to make bus travel more attractive to benefit both the environment and the economic recovery from Covid-19.

Among the key improvements planned in Suffolk are:

  • A review of service frequency, particularly on key corridors
  • Simplified services – including both regular scheduled buses and ‘demand-responsive’ services
  • Integrating school bus services with regular public network routes, including increased bus opportunities in rural areas
  • Expand the experimental Katch electric demand-responsive bus currently piloting between Framlingham and Wickham Market to other rural areas
  • Increase bus priority measures – targeting bus corridors through Ipswich and automatic numberplate recognition (ANPR) enforcement of bus lanes
  • Lower fares for those aged up to 25, possibly around a 25 per cent discount in line with the Endeavour Card
  • Contactless touch-on and touch-off ticketing and daily fare caps
  • Multi-operator ticketing
  • Expanding rail and bus ticket options (PlusBus) to Sudbury and Newmarket, and flexible PlusBus options for Ipswich-Felixstowe
  • Explore a potential “Pocket Park & Ride” site in Nacton part of Ipswich
  • Explore merging Ipswich’s two bus stations into one main hub
  • New lighting and markings at bus stops
  • Website improvements to Suffolk On Board and installing 50 real-time display boards at bus stations
  • Improved bus routes to and from tourism hotspots
  • Exploring ways of de-carbonising buses

Keith Welham, transport spokesman from the opposition Green, Liberal Democrat and Independent group, questioned whether the 23 bus routes where council subsidies were cut in 2019 would be re-instated.

Cllr Welham said: "Rural bus routes would bring passengers to feed what have been listed as the key corridors," and added: "The key to bus timetable reliability is bus priority measures."

Sandy Martin, deputy leader of the Labour group, said: "One of the main planks of any Bus Back Better plan has to be to stimulate demand.

"Getting young people to start using, or continue using buses, is absolutely critical to that.

"If people start getting their own cars it becomes much more difficult to attract them out of it.

"In which case, can I suggest that 25 per cent [discount for under 25s] is not enough?"

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