Local Link withdrawal threatens 15 routes in Torbay

The future of 15 routes in Torbay is uncertain following the decision by Paignton-based Local Link to quit local bus services after 1 April, citing rising costs and falling concessionary pass reimbursement.

Its commercial network in Torquay, Paignton and Brixham requires 14 vehicles, mainly Optare Solos, and serves areas with no alternative and distant from Stagecoach’s core commercial network. It provides some unique direct links to Torbay Hospital and retail parks.

Most of the routes began with local authority support and managing director Derek French says Local Link’s lower overheads allowed it to continue services others did not want, but rising costs and the concessionary fares regime ultimately made it impossible to continue.

‘The level of reimbursement is based on a complex statutory formula and like many smaller operators, the company is no longer satisfied that this formula is fit for purpose.’ He says that last year Torbay Council reduced his concessionary fares settlement from £630,000 to £515,000, while Stagecoach received an increase of a similar amount.

He responded by axing hourly service 60/61 (Torquay-Paignton) across hilly terrain, a route carrying only 1.4 passengers per mile, with 78% of the users being pass holders. The council was unwilling to pay the £170,000 annual subsidy the route would require, as it would still incur the concessionary fares payment.

Following Local Link’s decision to cease all services, the council says: ‘Unfortunately this is an operational decision for the business in question and not a matter over which the council has any control. When an operator wishes to cease operating a route, then the council can offer these routes to other operators.

‘This process is currently underway and we are in discussion with prospective operators.’