Off the buses: Number of bus journeys in region falls by two million in just a year

Long line of buses on Red Lion Street, Norwich during roadworks. Photo : Steve Adams

Long line of buses on Red Lion Street, Norwich during roadworks. Photo : Steve Adams - Credit: Steve Adams

The number of bus journeys taken in our region plummeted by two million in the space of a year, new figures revealed today.

According to figures released by the Department for Transport, based on statistics given to them by operators, there were 27.8m bus journeys made in Norfolk in 2015/16, a fall of a million on 2014/15. It had been as high as 29.7m in 2011/12.

There were also a million fewer journeys by bus made in Cambridgeshire, down from 22m in 2014/15 to 21m in 2015/16. Suffolk saw a slight increase from 17.5m to 17.6m.

The Green Party pinned the blame partly on fare increases which

they said put passengers off from using public transport.

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Fares nationally rose by an average of 3.8pc between March 2011 and March this year.

Martin Schmierer, leader of the Green Party group on Norwich City Council, said: 'It is no surprise that bus usage is dropping if fares keep going up so rapidly.

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'The government and local authorities need to do more to promote public transport rather than allowing above-inflation price rises.

But Steve Wickers, managing director for First Eastern Counties, said: 'The trends over the past five years have shown both growth and a decline in people using the buses around Norfolk, which is fairly consistent with other parts of the country.

'There have been a number of factors that have probably influenced the decline over the last 12 months, one being, funding. Our councils don't have the funding anymore to support services that are not sustainable on a commercial basis.

'Whereas previously a service may have continued to operate with financial support, this has resulted in a number of services being withdrawn, especially from more rural areas.'

He said First had invested more than £3.5m in new buses over the past year to improve journeys for passengers.

Charles Sanders, of Holt-based Sanders Coaches, said his passenger numbers had increased by 3.2pc over the period in question. But on the Norfolk-wide fall, he said: 'In some cases my services are a lifeline to the community and that is an important factor in an area of low incomes. I try to set my fares at a level that is affordable.

'Another issue is delays. There has been almost constant roadworks in Norwich during the period with the changes to city centre. The result will and has created real improvements, but maybe that has been a factor during the period.'

Norfolk County Council, which has a strategic role over public transport, said the drop 'could be influenced by so many factors'.

But a spokeswoman said: 'We have spent £2.75m a year over the past three years to subsidise routes which would not otherwise be commercially viable.'

She said the council had also been rolling out the Holdall smartcard giving people simpler and cheaper journey payments.

And she said the council had put money into the new King's Lynn bus station and Thetford's new bus interchange.'

A spokeswoman for Transport for Norwich, the project which has seen so many roadworks in and around Norwich, said: 'A fundamental part of our strategy is to put in place quality infrastructure that will support sustainable modes of transport.

'By creating several Bus Rapid Transit routes to improve reliability and journey times, the aim is to encourage more people to use public transport while also balancing the needs of other road users.

'We understand and apologise for frustrations around any short-term disruption but are confident that this will be outweighed by the already dramatically improving journey times for buses across the city.'

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