Rallying call for Norwich park and ride system

Norfolk County Council is convinced that controversial cuts imposed on Norwich's park and ride system will both protect the bus network and safeguard its future.

In an interview with the Evening News, Tracy Jessop, head of the county council's passenger transport unit, defended the measures, which include an increase in a standard adult return fare from �2 to �2.30 from April 2.

Reduced services and and the closure of some facilities at the city's six park and ride sites have also prompted criticism from Norfolk Buswatch and the Green Party.

The cuts to the park and ride service are all part of the council's bid to meet the government-imposed �155m of cuts over the next three years.

But despite the measures, Ms Jessop has urged people across the city and beyond to take to the bus and help boost park and ride passenger numbers, which have dropped from a peak of 3.7m in 2005 to just under 3m last year.

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She said: 'It is cheaper than a regular bus fare by far and away in comparison – about 30pc cheaper.

'The quality is high and there is a good frequency as well – up to [every] 15 minutes.

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'Most of the time you can board straight away and I think it is a high end, high quality service.

'We're really proud of the service we deliver; it is award-winning and people travel to see the good and bad points of the system and learn from us.

'Irrespective of the current issues with the cuts, our customer satisfaction levels have always been very high, about 95pc, and most of our regular passengers are very passionate about the service.'

As well as the fare rises, some services will begin later in the morning and finish earlier in the evening and at two sites – Postwick and Costessey – Saturday services will no longer run.

Norfolk County Council operates six purpose built park and ride sites, more than any other city in the UK, and has received praise in the past from central government.

Green Party environment and transport spokesman Andrew Boswell criticised the cuts, particularly the decision to close on-site facilities such as toilets and manned reception desks.

He said: 'There are a number of reasons for the numbers going down, like cutting lighting at nights and services on Saturdays.

'Those things are going to have a major impact and it is clear to see that cuts will not only allow numbers to continue to keep dropping, but will also make the service a lot worse.

'That is very bad for the local environment because rather than getting people out of their cars and on to public transport, it will have the opposite effect.'

John Peacock, co-ordinator for Norfolk Buswatch, said the opportunity for people to reduce their carbon footprint needed to be emphasised better if passenger numbers are to pick up again.

He said: 'Looking at the bigger picture, with all the emissions that cars bring into the city centre, I'm not sure the green card is being played enough.

'But support from national government is needed for that and the green agenda seems to have been put on the back burner by the government with everything else that is going on.

'Norfolk has been a pioneer of the park and ride system over the years; there are more services in this county than anywhere else in the UK, and we should be proud of that.

'It has made a valuable contribution to reducing the amount of cars in the city centre but it is rather unfortunate that the present cuts and reductions in services have had to be made.

'Particularly the closure on Saturdays of Postwick and Costessey is most unfortunate and increases worries about the number of cars that will be coming into the city centre.'

However, Ms Jessop countered that criticism, saying that the county council had to make cuts to protect the service.

She said: 'The costs of the sites without running any buses is significant. We pay a lot of money for utilities like water, which we won't pay any more with the toilets closing, and other things like business rates.

'All of that is in excess of �300,000.

'We would hope to generate additional income by bringing some aspects of the facilities back into use over time.

'However we are realistic about the level of income we could generate. We do have previous experiences on sites that includes hosting car servicing, flower selling and newspaper vending, and while it adds value for park and ride users, it generates a relatively low return.'

Despite fewer services from April, Ms Jessop urged people to make use of the city's park and ride services.

'A lot of people perceive that it will be easier to drive into the city centre and go to a car park, but actually the park and ride is very convenient and very quick.

'It is for visitors and residents of Norfolk and it is not anti-car. It is an alternative use for some journeys; it doesn't have to be all the time.

'It takes you right into the heart of the city centre and is actually quite enjoyable in my view.'

Will the park and ride changes have a dramatic effect on your life? Contact reporter David Freezer on 01603 772418 or on email at david.freezer@archant.co.uk

What do you think? Write to Evening News Letters, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich, NR1 1RE, or email eveningnewsletters@archant.co.uk

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