Dorset County Council is cutting a further £1million from its public transport budget – on top of £500,000 cuts last year – slashing 35 supported routes to just seven from 24 July. Go South Coast’s Damory business loses 24 routes on top of 19 last year.
Councillors approved the £1.5million cuts – halving Dorset’s supported transport budget – in February last year. The budget for school transport was additionally cut by £850,000.
The council blames reduced central government funding, saying with less money big savings are necessary to balance its budget, with a different approach required for public and school transport. Most of the initial £500,000 cut in April last year hit rural market day services; the main combined £1.85million cuts were deferred to this year.
The council says 70% of Dorset’s 100 routes will continue, accounting for more than 90% of journeys serving 80% of the population…
The council says it is ‘moving away from the old way of subsidising bus companies to run commercially unviable services that very few people use’ to helping rural communities expand community transport.
Bus Users UK says the cuts will be ‘hugely damaging’ to communities and highlights a legal requirement in the Transport Act 1985 for all councils to provide socially necessary services.
Its England director, Dawn Badminton- Capps, says: ‘We made it clear to Dorset County Council during last year’s consultation that cutting essential bus services in order to save money is a false economy.’ Isolating people, she adds, will create a greater burden on social and healthcare budgets. ‘Cutting vital bus services will create more problems than it solves.’
The council invited tenders for seven core routes linking market towns, which it says will help support the Dorset economy. South West Coaches won five — Blandford- Sherborne, Shaftesbury-Gillingham, Blandford-Shaftesbury, Sturminster Newton-Gillingham and Sherborne- Dorchester — all replacing contracts held by Damory Coaches.
Virtually all of Damory’s routes are subsidised, although it has gained the Blandford-Salisbury contract from the council’s own fleet, but loses Blandford- Dorchester journeys serving Bere Regis and Weymouth to First Hampshire & Dorset.
In addition to its solitary new award, Damory will operate two Dorchester town routes and a limited service X12 (Blandford- Dorchester-Weymouth) commercially. These are all weekdays only between school runs with all other routes withdrawn.
Damory fared better with Dorset’s new secondary/upper school contracts, gaining seven out of 13 awarded on a new simple one-school/one-operator basis.
First fought back, winning three of these contracts in Bridport, Lyme Regis and Beaminster (west Dorset), while South West Coaches won two and Vale Coaches one (north Dorset). Damory also won five middle schools but full middle and primary school awards were not available.
In Dorset’s major re-procurement exercise of 2011, Damory won the majority of the sixyear contracts with 93% of public routes and 88% of school contracts. It trebled its fleet and expanded across the county at the expense of First and independents, but encountered some initial operational difficulties.
To replace Damory route 101 (Crossways- Dorchester), First’s new route 5, which has duplicated it since May, is extended from Weymouth, while the council confirms that it will replace the deregistered partly commercial Damory route 40 (Bridport-Yeovil).