End of road for orbital bus?

Norwich's Orbital Bus service is expected to be axed less than two years after it was launched.It has failed to break even since it was introduced by Norfolk County Council and £1.

Norwich's Orbital Bus service is expected to be axed less than two years after it was launched.

It has failed to break even since it was introduced by Norfolk County Council and £1.3m in government cash which was meant to see it through its first three years has almost run out already.

Now transport chiefs are recommending it be scrapped as early as March 2007.

The mission of the Orbital Bus was to provide a publicly-owned service to whisk passengers around the city so they could avoid getting caught up in city centre jams.

With private operator First increasingly under fire over its services, council bosses had hoped the project would help raise the standard of bus provision in Norwich.

Desperate for it to succeed, the council removed the bus service which ferried its own staff between County Hall and the city centre in an effort to bolster passenger numbers.

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But although numbers have risen over recent months, a report to members of the Norwich Highways Agency Committee (NHAC) says it should be scrapperd.

Taxpayers will not bear the burden of the cost should it be withdrawn. But the move will anger transport campaigners and passengers - especially those employed at County Hall and the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital at Colney who began using the service after another service was withdrawn.

John Peacock, regional spokesman for pedestrian charity Living Streets, said providing a comprehensive and effective bus system was about much more than ensuring bus routes broke even. “I think this is very disappointing. Public transport's primary objective is not to make a profit. We have to get away from that culture.

“Public transport is a public service and the orbital has been a lifeline for many people and the decision to scrap it should not be made on whether it makes a profit or not.”

Even before it launched, the Orbital Bus caused controversy and transport chiefs have been warning for months that its closure was looming.

In September 2004 the Department of Transport ordered a probe into the scheme after Labour councillors expressed concerns the route did not go round the whole city and questioned whether it linked well enough with homes, shops and businesses. Only two months after it was launched in January 2006 the route was facing an uncertain future as an average of only four people were boarding each service.

Brian Morrey, vice chair of NHAC, said officers were now recommending that it stops running in March when government funding runs out. “Officers are working on alternatives for some of the more popular parts of the route.”

Adrian Gunson, who is chair of NHAC and also holds the portfolio for planning and transportation at the county council, said: “Passengers are paying no more than 20pc of the total cost of it. Its financial viability has always been the main issue.”