Standing room only

BUS chiefs and councillors were given a rough ride at a public meeting regarding proposals to axe bus services in rural areas. There was standing room only at Langford village hall on Tuesday afternoon when directors of bus operator Stagecoach faced resid

BUS chiefs and councillors were given a rough ride at a public meeting regarding proposals to axe bus services in rural areas.

There was standing room only at Langford village hall on Tuesday afternoon when directors of bus operator Stagecoach faced residents who feared they would be left without any bus services.

Stagecoach announced in December they would be cutting back many unprofitable services from February 18 with some villages in Mid Beds being left without any services at all. Langford would be one of the areas hardest hit and Stagecoach East managing director James Freeman made a brave attempt to pour oil on troubled waters for his company.

But his words often fell on deaf ears with the mood from the floor at times hostile to both Stagecoach and Bedfordshire County Council.

Despite promises that Langford and many other communities would still have a bus service, even though they might be less frequent, there was a general mood from over 200 people who attended the meeting that the answers given by Stagecoach and the county council were unconvincing.

One woman said losing direct services to Lister Hospital would cost her over £50 in taxi fares while another villager said the £40,000 Mid Beds District Council had spent on doors to the council chamber at Chicksands could have gone on bus services.

Most Read

Another resident described the new council offices as a palace and a waste of money, while another villager accused the county council of wasting money on projects.

Mr Freeman said: "It is now up to the county council to decide if it is socially necessary for these services to run.

"The brutal truth is the age when we had enough customers to pay for our services have long gone. There are some routes in the area that do not generate enough cash to pay their way.

"Some services will come to an end but Langford will retain a service."

The county council said their position on taking over some of the routes would be made clearer when a decision is made on January 19.

Bedfordshire County Council cabinet member for transport Cllr Tom Wootton said supporting bus services was costing the council £2.5 million and brought a huge laugh from the audience when he said the council had given a commitment to getting council tax down.

"Supporting many of these routes would mean we have got to find a lot of money," said Cllr Wootton.

"We have been talking to operators who might be interested in some of these routes and we do have solutions which will be announced soon. But villages will have bus services."

Only last week Cllr Wootton said: "We will continue to support Stagecoach and other bus operators with subsidies of public money. But we will have to make sure we are getting value for money. We can't be held to ransom by commercial bus operators."

Chris Pettifer, head of integrated transport at the county council, said the council had completed a review of bus services throughout the county and were looking at a series of options.

"There will be changes and some reduced services. But no rural village will be left isolated."

Mr Freeman refuted allegations by Ken Lynch, chairman of the Biggleswade and District Pensioners' Association, that Stagecoach drivers were facing losing their jobs. Mr Lynch said after the meeting: "The question about redundancies was a shock they didn't expect.

"But we won this round against Stagecoach, and Langford will retain a bus service. I just hope Stagecoach keep their promise.

"The people of Langford fought for their bus services and won."

The next public meeting concerning threats to rural bus services is at Potton Lower School next Wednesday at 3.45pm when Stagecoach and the county council will again face questions from residents.

"Potton is in the same position as Langford. The town needs frequent bus services but the services from Potton drastically affects Sandy and Gamlingay so we are hoping we win round two of these meetings as well," said Mr Lynch.

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter