Thursday, 30 November 2017

Uproar at 22 Bus Services’ Cuts

Reading Buses’ announcement that from February 2018 it will HALVE the 22’s current 30 minute service down to once an hour on Saturdays and off peak Monday-Friday, as well as completely scrap the Sunday service, has infuriated local residents.  I’ve been inundated with correspondence and phone calls from angry and upset people.
Passengers on 22 during day time

If, as residents claim, the buses are well used throughout the day, then it flies in the face of claims made by Reading Buses so questions must be asked about how robust the company's ridership figures (which they will not share) are.  It may be that bus pass holders aren’t properly counted and that would be very concerning from an age equality point of view.

In addition, Labour-run Reading Borough Council (RBC) wants to get people out of cars and onto buses to help tackle congestion.  The Local Transport Plan states that “The challenge is to further improve the reliability, efficiency and coverage of bus services in order to build and maintain current successes and to further increase passenger levels.”  But how is cutting the 22 service going to increase passenger numbers?  Surely the reverse is what is needed to attract more onto the buses, ie increasing the number of buses per hour, is what my residents are telling me!  Particularly odd is that RBC is actually owns Reading Buses and therefore residents feel the council should be duty bound to provide a decent service for all Reading's residents.

Mapledurham Ward residents feel an hourly service is what they would expect in the deep rural countryside: not a prosperous town like Reading.  It is extraordinary that a bus company, which is wholly owned by Reading Borough Council, should be cutting services used by so many vulnerable people, namely children and pensioners.

The cuts will severely impact the many who do not drive (school children as well as a surprising number of adults) and those who cannot walk far.  It will push more into their cars, which in itself will add to Caversham and Reading’s congestion, negatively affecting the reliability of buses, adding more of a deterrent to would-be bus passengers.

As the Mapledurham Ward councillor I, together with others including Fiona Pringle (who set up the community group “Concerned of Caversham”) attended a meeting with Martijn Gilbert, Reading Buses’ Chief Executive, on Monday 20 November.   In advance of the meeting we decided that our top priority was to get the 30 minute service restarted at the end of the school day.  Sadly, although Martijn agreed with me that it is important to get children into the habit of using the bus, he was not prepared to budge.  Martijn said that subject to timetabling the ‘peak’ service was likely to resume at about 5.15-5.30 pm. 

Following the meeting “Concerned of Caversham” has been testing out Reading Buses’ claim that the 22 service is not used very much during the day.  The evidence shows that actually the number of passengers is very healthy, with buses after 3 pm usually packed and standing room only. 

Once I have finished reading all the objections sent through to me I will write again to Reading Buses on behalf of Mapledurham Ward residents to voice their concerns and urge for a rethink on the announced cuts.

Readers may like to look at my previous posts in October about Reading Buses.  In addition there is this GetReading report.