Friday, May 2, 2014
A shuttle bus introduced to offset the impact of a bus and coach ban in Southwold High Street has been hailed a “resounding success” by its founders one year after its launch.
The hourly minibus service was launched by Southwold Town Council on May 1, 2013 after a ban on buses was introduced in the town centre to ease congestion.
Since then, it has made an estimated 1,200 journeys around the town and neighbouring Reydon and carried thousands of passengers.
Southwold mayor Simon Tobin said the service continued to go from strength to strength and provided a boost to High Street traders as it carried tourists from the beach and the pier to town centre businesses.
“Over a year ago, the town council made a decision to stop coaches and buses coming into the main centre of Southwold,” said Mr Tobin.
“On reflection, this has been a resounding success and has allowed the town centre to breathe again and stop it getting completely gridlocked.
“On the back of this, the shuttle bus was launched and has completely joined the town up and acted as a people carrier in and out of the town.
“Also, it has been very successful in joining the four corners of Southwold together with Reydon, which is what we originally hoped would happen.
“Very shortly, in September, the new health centre opens in Reydon and again the shuttle bus will come into its own.”
During the first month of operation, the shuttle bus carried 330 passengers rising to 920 in August last year.
An average of 300 people used the service every month during the quiet winter period and numbers are expected to rise again as the summer tourist season gets under way, when up to 8,500 people visit Southwold every day.
Mr Tobin said the estimated £10,000 annual operation and maintenance costs of the vehicle were being offset through sponsorship, passenger charges, bus pass rebates and fuel rebates.
The minibus was donated to the town council by Suffolk County Council and is driven by a team of five volunteer, which includes Mr Tobin.
He said: “The project shows again the incredible community spirit that is alive and well in Southwold and Reydon, with people giving their free time as volunteers to drive the shuttle bus. I know personally it is a rewarding experience to do as you meet both local people and tourists from throughout the country and abroad.”
A trip on the shuttle bus costs £1 for a single journey, £3 to ride all day and is free for bus pass holders.
The bus starts outside the King’s Head pub in High Street and travels via Wangford Road and The Drive in Reydon, Southwold Market Place, the putting green and the Harbour Inn.
“For £1, where else in the country can a person enjoy an hour-long trip around one of the most iconic seaside resorts in the UK,” added Mr Tobin.
A temporary ban on buses and coaches using parts of the High Street was made permanent by Suffolk County Council in November 2012.
The controversial scheme – which saw the main town centre bus stop in Market Place moved a short distance up the road to outside the King’s Head pub – was introduced to ease congestion.
However, the move led to complaints that elderly people or those with impaired mobility would struggle to walk from Market Place to the stop outside the King’s Head, particularly when laden down with shopping.
The East Suffolk Travellers’ Association (ESTA), which lobbies for better public transport in east Suffolk, were among the opponents of the scheme.
ESTA secretary Rod Lock said the organisation was working with Southwold Town Council to promote the shuttle bus, despite objecting to the bus and coach ban.
“We didn’t think it was a good decision but we have had to accept it has happened and there is not much we can do about it,” said Mr Lock. “We will work with the council to promote the shuttle bus. We have produced a map of the shuttle bus route for display on our station boards and, in Southwold, we will promote it as much as we can.”
■ Volunteer drivers are still needed to work and anyone who can help is asked contact the town clerk on 01502 722576.
■ Advertising space on the shuttle bus is being sold to help fund running and maintenance costs. Contact the town clerk for more details.