Future of eveningbus service is secured

A funding package has been put together to ensure the continuation of an evening bus service in Berwick.

Thursday, 6th December 2018, 13:28 pm
Woody's Taxibus

A taxibus service has been operated by Woody’s Taxis since Borders Buses stopped providing the evening bus service at the start of the year, but it has been running at a loss.

However, Berwick Town Council has agreed provide £4,000 a year, with an additional £5,000 a year from Northumberland County Council to cover the £9,000 annual shortfall.

A new tender process will now be undertaken, with a view to a four-year contract being put in place, with current operator Steven Wood indicating he is keen for his firm to be considered.

The new service might also operate via Tesco, which has been requested by some residents.

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At a full meeting of the town council last week Mr Wood said: “Whether it’s myself or another operator who takes it over, I would like to stress how important this service is to members of the public.

“It is an absolute lifeline for people on local estates coming in and out of Berwick.”

The county council initially helped establish the taxibus service for a four-month trial period.

Discussions had continued since May to try and come up with a financial package to ensure its continuation.

Mr Wood revealed that passenger numbers had climbed to more than 20 per evening during the early part of the summer but this was not enough to make it commercially viable.

“Hopefully in years to come this might become a commercial service but at the moment we are sustaining a massive loss that we can’t put up with,” he said.

“At the same time, there are youngsters and the elderly in particular who need this service. For a town the size of Berwick to be without an evening bus service would be crazy.”

In recent weeks, the company has kept the service running as a gesture of goodwill but also in the likelihood any interruption to service would damage its prospects in the longer term.

Neal Easton, county council policy officer, said he was loath to see the loss of a service which had shown signs of growth.

Supermarkets and other local businesses had been approached with a view to financial support without success.

Mr Easton explained that the initial proposal to merge with the town’s hoppa bus service at no additional cost to the town council had to be amended after further investigations found a shortfall.

The new proposal would enable one vehicle to be used for up to 14 hours a day.

“We start from zero in a re-tendering process with no timetable in place,” he added. “It will be up to the operator to decide what works.”

He also revealed that more than £500,000 a year is spent on supporting bus services for tbe Berwick area.

He acknowledged, however, that more could be done to promote or advertise the evening taxibus service to try and increase passenger numbers further.

Town clerk Gareth Davies, in his report to members, stated: ‘Officers do have concerns about some of the risks surrounding the proposal; these relate to the risk of costs increasing over the life of the agreement, and the risk of providers withdrawing or being unable to fulfill the contracts.’

Coun Kerry Beresforrd, who was involved in the campaign to retain bus services to the estates, said: “This is something that’s important in every one of our wards. It’s a vital service.”

Members wholeheartedly backed the proposal led by Coun Karin Graham.