Cut-price pizzas among moves to save highly-popular but threatened Coasthopper bus service from Cromer to King’s Lynn

Coasthopper bus users can now enjoy discounts at various venues along the route. Richard Martin, hea

Coasthopper bus users can now enjoy discounts at various venues along the route. Richard Martin, head chef at The Jolly Sailors pub in Brancaster Staithe, shows off one of the pubs stone baked pizzas.PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: Archant

Discounts on food, drink and admission prices are being offered by businesses along the picturesque route of a well-used but threatened rural bus service in a bid to help keep it running.

Pubs, cafés and Norfolk Wildlife Trust's Cley Marshes reserve are rallying round to help the struggling Coasthopper service, which runs between Cromer and King's Lynn.

The scheme, organised by the Norfolk Coast Partnership, aims to entice more passengers with the lure of cut-price deals along the way as they jump on and off the half-hourly service.

Ben Colson, managing director of Coasthopper operator Norfolk Green, welcomed the initiative which he said was part of a package of measures introduced to cut costs and boost passenger numbers.

And he warned that this year would be critical for the future of the Coasthopper.

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Swingeing funding cuts by Norfolk County Council, coupled with costs such as a 58pc national hike in fuel tax for buses in April last year, meant that the 'top end of £250,000' had been taken out of the Coasthopper service since April 2011, said Mr Colson.

Last year the service had carried 544,000 passengers but only a little over a third of them had been fare-paying. The rest used their pensioners' free bus passes.

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Norfolk Green received money from the county council for each free bus-pass passenger but it was only about 47pc of the adult fare, calculated on a national average journey of eight miles.

However the average distance travelled by pensioners using Coasthopper was 15 miles, so the company was carrying them at entirely its own expense for about 11 miles per journey, said Mr Colson.

'It's becoming increasingly difficult to sustain,' he said. 'It's not just used by walkers and people enjoying the wildlife. We have local people going about their daily business - shopping, going to the doctors, and young people going to college.

'All those trips are at risk. We don't want to have to make 20-plus drivers redundant and we don't want to leave businesses along the road isolated and abandoned. We are working hard to try and find rather unusual ways of trying to resolve this problem.'

Among other loss-reducing measures introduced this year, fares have risen by 7pc, the number of vehicles on the route has dropped from 13 to 12, the last bus of the day is running earlier, and the 'full pelt' summer season service has been shrunk from April-October to May-September.

Mr Colson said he hoped they would be enough to stave off far more drastic cuts next year. He was also crossing his fingers for a better summer as the service was very weather dependent and last year's rain had seen a fall in passenger numbers compared to 2011.

At The Jolly Sailors pub, in Brancaster Staithe, duty manager Marek Vlk said they were offering Coasthopper passengers 10pc off stonebaked pizzas on weekday lunchtimes.

'There is a bus stop just across the road from the pub and it's very important to us in the summertime. We get a lot of passengers who use the bus and come and visit us,' said Mr Vlk.

Grant Rundle, community officer with the Norfolk Coast Partnership, said local businesses valued the Coasthopper as it brought them customers and helped protect the special character of the coast. Residents and visitors said it was a lifeline.

He added: 'When we heard it was under threat we decided to help out.'

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