In October 2014, I submitted a deputation to Hampshire County Council calling for local bus services to be preserved. You can find Cllr Woodward's response below. This provides and explanation of why various difficult decisions have been made by the Council.
Thank you for your written deputation for my Passenger Transport Review decision day on 27th October.
I appreciate your detailed comments and know of your support for public transport from the work we have done together and our joint meetings with the managing director of First Hampshire, Dorset and Berkshire.
There has been unprecedented investment in the bus network in Gosport and Fareham in recent years with the successful bid for Government funding for the Eclipse Bus Rapid Transit and significant investment in new buses by First for the Eclipse and the £1 million fleet for the 9/9A for which you attended the launch. The frequency of the Eclipse has recently increased to 10 buses an hour, X4/X5 now offer a 15 minute between Fareham and Southampton and half hourly to Gosport and Portsmouth and the 3, which provides the link from Fareham to Queen Alexandra Hospital and Portsmouth has doubled to a bus every 10 minutes.
What we are seeing, as elsewhere in the country, is a move to a simpler network of more frequent buses where passengers can just turn up and go. This has proved attractive in increasing bus use and in the Fareham – Gosport peninsula bus use overall has increased by around 24%. These services are provided commercially but as part of this shift we have seen operators pulling out of services elsewhere, as they become less well used, with pressure on the finite County Council bus subsidy budget to plug the gap, as at Hill Head and Alverstoke or along the A32.
I approved the 11 and 21 as replacement services from January so that those areas would not be left without a bus service, but in approving this additional funding, at a time when savings are needed, I did so on a trial basis subject to use. In looking at the new 21, surveys showed an average 6 passengers a day travelling from Lee-on-the-Solent, with most travelling to the Asda stop. As you say, Asda provide a shoppers' service from Lee. In addition, the new X5 route covers much of Lee with half hourly buses to Gosport and Fareham where a range of major name shops are available.
With regard to the bus service to Alverstoke, as you say there was previously a 30 minute service on the 9/9A which was a mixture of developer funding and commercial operation. The developer funding ran out last year and First decided that their buses would attract a greater number of users if they routed them via the Creek Road (Morrison's) stop, which is the most popular stop in Gosport. In looking at both our own surveys and the bus operator's ticket machine data from when the 9/9A ran through Alverstoke, the buses were well used, but apart from peak times an average of only 2 or 3 passengers a journey boarded in the Alverstoke section. In looking to fund a replacement, I also had to take into account that the success of the Eclipse meant that very few passengers were boarding the 11 along the A32. First had announced that they were to discontinue this, but I had calls, particularly form older residents to provide a service. The replacement bus thus serves both Alverstoke and the old A32 route between Gosport and Fareham. It provides commuter time journeys and for the rest of the day provides the maximum service possible with the one bus available. As you know, I asked Marc Reddy when we met at Southampton, what they could propose to increase the service to Alverstoke using a bus available at off peak times. I was disappointed in their response which would have increased the frequency during the middle of the day but at greater hourly cost than their recent tenders for the 11 and 21. This did not meet our value for money criteria so we were unable to progress this.
In looking at proposals to retain the additional funding for the 11 and 21 in the context of the current review in which a reduced budget is available, the proposal before me is to continue the 11 on a Monday to Friday as opposed to a Monday to Saturday basis. For the 21, the proposal is to run a revised route as discussed but to run on Monday to Friday plus Saturday mornings, ceasing the journeys on Saturday afternoons. These decisions take into account the consultation responses which favoured prioritising funding for Monday to Friday services as meeting the widest range of needs for doctor's appointments and food shopping.
With regard to the provision of a direct bus from Gosport to the Queen Alexandra Hospital, the NHS underwrote such a service on a trial basis when the hospital opened using a minibus provided by Fareham Community Action. The service was discontinued due to lack of use. Transport to hospital is a sensitive issue with demand for such services but many families preferring to take their relative by car, especially if they are likely to be under the effects of medication on their return or uncertain of when they will be ready to leave the hospital. The NHS does provide funding for travel costs in certain cases. From a public transport point of view the recent increase to a 6/7 minute frequency on the Eclipse from Gosport and with the 3 from Fareham to the hospital now running every 10 minutes, the travel options are better than ever. I am unsure where the funding needed to run an additional hospital service would come from, as use would be too low for a commercial service, and I fear that the proposals I have seen to run some of the Eclipse buses through to the hospital are impractical.
Thank you again for your written deputation, your continued interest in public transport, and the opportunity for me to respond.
Councillor Seán D T Woodward
Executive Member for Economy,
Transport and Environment
County Councillor for Sarisbury Division