FOLLOWING a string of negative reviews surrounding bus services in Essex, a new scheme is being discussed to improve services across the county.
Within Essex, there are almost 40 different bus services, many of which run smoothly and meet their customers’ needs. However, some of the services are not up to standard and Essex County Council is therefore facing a dilemma.
Coun Ray Gooding, who represents Stansted on the county council, proposed a franchising scheme to the latest council meeting, hoping that buses in Essex could mimic the hugely successful public transport system in big cities, such as London.
The New Bus Services Act (2017) has already been put into place in various northern cities, including Manchester and Leeds. The act has been successful in improving bus services in the North of England, making it all the more appealing for Essex councillors, who are battling with disappointed bus users. The scheme has not yet been amended, but councillors are currently reviewing whether it will be feasible and worthwhile.
Coun Gooding said, ‘Essex has a problem with bus services due to the county being diverse, with both rural and urban areas.’
A student from Harlow College, Chloe McKendrick, 18, agreed with Coun Gooding. She said ‘Buses have made me late three times this week. The buses are so infrequent, that I have to leave very early in the mornings, and only arrive home late in the evening. I am dreading the winter months, when it will be cold, dark and dismal.’
Fortunately, Chloe receives a bursary for her travel from Waltham Abbey to Harlow College, and this subsequently reduces the cost of her travel. However, not all students qualify for free travel, and the rising costs of bus fares are a huge worry for students, parents and teachers alike.
When we asked Coun Gooding what the effects of his franchising scheme would be on the cost of travel, he admitted that fares might rise in some areas, but added, ‘People tend to look at what they will get out of it themselves.’
He said that if fares were to stay the same, taxpayers would have to finance for costs of the scheme. Approximately £100 comes out of taxpayer’s money per anum at present, which for frequent bus users might seem plausible, but would be unfair for those who rarely use public transport.
Coun Gooding said there would be both positive and negative consequences, should the franchising scheme go ahead. The local council would have more control over the services, taking a bottom-up approach by cooperating with users to determine their needs. This would allow them to provide more useful and reliable services.
If the scheme went ahead, there would be discussions with commercial bus providers such as First Bus, on any adverse effects that adding or removing services could have on the environment.
‘The buses can seem pretty groggy and old, and some desperately need updating,” he said.