Wednesday, 9 September 2015

The (Very Large) Chop Revealed!

Save £300,000 : Spend £150,000 ??
Porchfield residents have warned cuts to the village’s only bus service will hit elderly residents and youngsters who rely on it as their only means of transport.

At a meeting organised by 16-year-old resident and Christ the King College pupil Jodie Long, locals said the recent loss of the village pub, The Sportsman’s Rest, and a lack of post office and shop were destroying community life.

Now, residents are hoping parish and town councils affected by the axing of the No 35 route (Newbridge to Newport, via Porchfield) ...
... can club together to help pay for a replacement service.

Newtown and Porchfield have never, in the history of Isle of Wight buses, been good bus territory. In the 80s they were served by a Postbus; soon withdrawn on economic grounds!
Summer traffic from Thorness Bay Holiday Park (north of Portchfield and on the mud coast) only ever contributed a handful to the sparsely loaded buses.

But Havenstreet is a different matter.
Lying half way between Ryde and Newport, the quaint little village always enjoyed a reasonable bus service via the "back road" between the two towns. Historically numbered 3, it ran every hour in the 80s.
In the later 90s it became part of the Island Explorer circular (but lengthy) linking of a bit of everything.
But once the Havenstreet route was left to fend for itself, unlinked to a wider Island network, local passenger numbers were never enough to sustain it.

Tourists to the steam

The traditional service was progressively chopped until it was three journeys ...
... and most recently, only one in each direction; effectively propped up by school traffic..
No use, as they say, to man nor beast.

The challenging question, of course, is "have numbers declined as a result of service reduction; or were they never there in the first place?" A drive through the village today will see a preponderance of one- and two-car homes and very few "local" people.

A much respected Island bus watcher has been quoted as saying, "there are only two 80 year old ladies who use the bus regularly; could someone give them a lift to the shops now and then?"

In addition to wholesale route removal, the much praised (by itself!) Community Bus Partnership is dead and now buried; fares discounts for students are just about hanging on as a commercial decision by Southern Vectis (25% discount instead of 50%), Dial-a-Bus for the disabled is no more and numerous evening journeys are cancelled.

Service 6 loses its Sunday service ...
... whilst the tourist money-pot Needles Breezer continues to rake in premium fares right through until 1st November.
The Southern Vectis web site also advertises other attractive tourist routes ...
... which, needles  to say, finished on 31st August!

What the council has done is to cancel contracts for services that it has no legal obligation to provide and, amazingly, supporting rural buses is an option, not a compulsion. So are council finances that bad that they can't find just a smidgen of de minimis funding to isolated communities? One bus, one day a week?

"We remain committed to providing the most comprehensive rural bus network anywhere in the UK." So says Matt Kitchin, spending a whole third of his working week managing Southern Vectis. What he didn't say, of course, was that running, e.g., one bus a week to the cut-off villages would have hardly any impact on the company's "bottom line" Then again, the company has agrred to operate several ex-Partnership services in the Sandown/Shanklin area on a commercial basis.

But for how long?

It is not long ago that the council upped its wage for their Chief Executive to £150,000. Mr Duckworth ...
... (not that one) didn't go down at all well. (click to enlarge new item below.)
Whilst the "eco isle" died with Mr D's departure, does the Council realise that forcing more and more people into their cars will INCREASE council expense, not reduce it?

Opportunistic short-termism rules OK.

As usual!

And why would Jodie Long want a bus from Porchfield into Newport at 0954 on Tuesdays and Thursdays? Shouldn't she be at school (sorry, Christ the King College)?

We end with a quote from the current (i.e. Winter) Southern Vectis timetable.
Yeah, right!

 Next bus blog : Thursday 10th September 


  1. Sorry, fbb, but I'm afraid I must take exception with you!

    ISTR it wasn't so long ago that SVOC had two fare scales . . . Summer and Winter; and two timetables . . . . Summer and Winter. This was (I believe) because the numbers of passengers available in the winter was greatly below the number of passengers available in the summer, so much hay was made whilst the sun shone! This meant that a reasonable service could continue to be offered in the winter.

    Fast forward to this Millennium, and SVOC now offer much the same level of service all year round, and the fares don't seem to change much either. Yes, the fares are high for routes like the Needles Breezer, but now look on it as a tourist attraction using buses. £25 for a day's entertainment on the top deck of a bus for a family is, I would submit, reasonable nowadays (and it includes all other SVOC routes as well!!). I'll also refer you to the New Forest routes, which are marketed as tourist attractions as well.
    Yes, no OAP passes are valid, and why not? Free travel for OAP's was intended to get the elderly into the shops and to the doctors for free, but (as with most things from central Government recently) not thought through properly.

    Ultimately, the "Mrs Scroggins" question will also apply on the IOW. A bus route can't (and shouldn't) be operated for two 80 year old ladies who travel once a week. DRT isn't the answer either; that may look cheap and provide much flexibility, but there's still a call-centre and phone number to be paid for!
    Probably the best answer for deeply rural transport is the Devon CC "FareCar" network, which uses a taxi firm (with phone number) and simply pays the taxi firm per passenger carried.
    After all, a taxi is still "public" transport, isn't it?

  2. How odd that fbb thinks I only spend a third of my working week managing Southern Vectis? Do I have a stalker or does he know something I don’t?

    What isn’t explained very well in the above article is that the IoW Council have removed almost all discretionary funding for public transport. There is only one public bus service funded by the council, that being route 39, and only thanks to s106 funding and a contribution from the local town council.

    The local authority faces an extraordinarily difficult task in delivering a balanced budget. Whilst it is not my place to delve into the politics of their decision making I can assure fbb and avid readers much of my time in recent months has been spent exploring alternatives, even alternatives that deliver no financial benefit to SV.

    Despite £1million of council cuts to public transport the network remains remarkably intact. We’re taking on running three community bus routes plus routes 6, 12 and 37 on a wholly commercial basis. I understand by those who have a far more encyclopaedic knowledge of island bus routes than I that route 6 has never run without some form of direct financial support by the local authority since deregulation.

    I’m sure fbb will recall from his time as an operator running conventional buses is not cheap. Sadly the journeys that have finished often didn’t generate enough income to cover the fuel bill let alone the driver’s costs or contribution to anything other than direct costs.

    Finally, in response to the last sentence in the article, I challenge FBB not to enjoy a day out without the car on the island. Plenty of places easily accessible by bus – Godshill, Isle of Wight Steam Railway (starting at Wootton of course), Osborne House, The Needles, Blackgang Chine, Amazon World, Dimbola Lodge, Dinosaur Isle to name but a few. To suggest otherwise is doing a disservice to the island as a whole.

    Matt Kitchin
    General Manager, Southern Vectis