Banbury bus changes: Pensioners will be ‘forced to use food money on taxis’

Veronica Keyte, left and Rosemary Cannon, right at a B8 bus stop on Austin Drive, Banbury. NNL-171024-162555009
Veronica Keyte, left and Rosemary Cannon, right at a B8 bus stop on Austin Drive, Banbury. NNL-171024-162555009

Residents of two large Banbury estates have reacted with anger to the loss of their bus services.

Lisa Readman of Hanwell Fields said losing the B10 service would add 40 minutes or more to each end of the day for her and her son, needing to get to Banbury town centre, while her daughter would have to walk a mile-and-a-half, with a heavy backpack, to North Oxfordshire Academy.

Rachel Palmer-Hearn and her son, Christopher and a Stagecoach B10 bus in Winter Gardens Way, Banbury. NNL-171017-165004009

Rachel Palmer-Hearn and her son, Christopher and a Stagecoach B10 bus in Winter Gardens Way, Banbury. NNL-171017-165004009

Disabled householder Rosemary Cannon, 74, of Riley Drive on Hillview Estate said taxis instead of the B8 bus would cost £30 – the equivalent of her weekly food bill.

Pensioner Veronica Keyte, 82, said because of mobility problems she would have to use taxis. But the two pensioners said they would gladly pay on top of their bus passes to keep their service.

Mrs Keyte said: “I’m really, really angry. I have three appointments every week and always use the bus.

“All of a sudden they are taking it away. They have never asked us. I’m at the top of Riley Drive and can’t walk all the way to Ruscote Avenue to the new bus stop.

The loss of these routes will have a profound impact on a number of individuals

Cllr John Donaldson

“I found out by whispers, asked the driver and he said it was all fixed.”

Mrs Cannon, who can only walk with a wheeled frame, said her nearest bus would be the B5 on Bretch Hill.

“Taxis are my only option but three times a week would cost £30 – that’s what I pay on food every week,” she said.

Mrs Readman said: “My son will have to leave earlier to get his train to Oxford each day. I will have to leave earlier to get to work. We will all get home later making already long days even longer. What about those who cannot cope?

“It is not just our bus routes that are being taken away – it is independence and time.

“I don’t think many people would he happy to add 40 minutes to their commute each day? That’s what we will now have to do.

“These changes should matter to everyone. Public transport is a vital part of society’s fabric. When part of the community loses access to it, the fabric begins to unravel,” she said.

Mrs Readman said the consquence of Stagecoach being developer-funded for the new route to the Hanwell Chase was two-thirds of Hanwell Fields being segregated.

“Our taxes will cover service to some, but not to all. It is disgraceful that provision of basic public services is based on profitability and is reliant on the financial support of developers.

“Every choice made about bus services in Banbury is about money. Cash is king – while some can afford to worship at its feet, the rest of us are being crushed under its boot,” she said.

Councillors empathise with users

Councillors representing Hardwick ward have expressed concern.

Cllr John Donaldson said: “I use both buses and earlier this year I couldn’t drive for about four months due to ill health. I was then using it daily at various times of the day.

“The loss of these routes will have a profound impact on a number of individuals some of whom, I know, struggle with mobility to get to the bus stop. I understand these routes may not be financially viable at certain times and have some sympathy with the operators.

“The solution is for more people to use the buses. How you do that is the difficult part.”

Cllr Nicholas Turner said he would like to see the new developments on all sides linked by services.

“The county council should work with bus companies to see if ways can be found to ensure the bottom end of the estate gets a bus service as well and Cherwell should be involved to investigate the possibilities of using some of the developer funding to facilitate this.”

Sean Woodcock, leader of the Labour group on Cherwell said: “I feel for the people affected by these cuts which follow similar cuts in Grimsbury and Easington last year.

“While it is very easy to point the finger at Stagecoach, the reality is they are a private company. If a service does not make money for a private enterprise, that enterprise won’t continue to provide the service.

“That’s why subsidies provided by councils are so important to ensure that unprofitable bus routes can continue to operate for those who need them.

“So the real villains here are not Stagecoach but the Conservatives in Westminster. They are continually voting for cuts to local authorities and councils can no longer provide the subsidies.

“As in so much else, this is about the deliberate policies of the Conservative government; to cut public services which the majority are reliant on in order to cut taxes for a small number of the wealthiest individuals and companies.”

County council outlines bus realities

Oxfordshire County Council, which decides how to use ‘developer contributions’ say tight budgets mean bus routes must be profitable to survive.

In a statement the council said: “For quite some time there has been no council budget for subsidised bus services, so routes need to be commercially viable – the income from passengers must cover costs.

“Developer funding can be used to serve the actual developments providing the finance. However this can only be spent once. So this funding is being invested in bus routes which appear to have a sustainable future.

“This new bus service pattern is specifically designed to serve the new housing areas around Banbury, which are furthest from the town centre – so the Warwick Road area and the Longford Park area will benefit from improved services from next month.

“The first stage of a new B4 bus service to Southam Road will also start next month and increasing in frequency and hours of operation from next year, when this developer money becomes available.

“The developer funding which has run out refers to contributions from Hanwell Fields, constructed around 15 years ago. Unfortunately the B10 from Hanwell Fields to Banbury town centre has never carried many passengers, certainly not enough to cover the cost of operation.

“So this area will be served by the improved B9 and by the new B4 via Southam Road. It is hoped these services will be commercially viable in a few years and certainly before the end of funding from these new developments.”

Developer contributions are agreements made between local authorities and developers which are typically attached to a planning permission to respond to the impact of a development on the existing community and its services.

Pensioners’ offers to pay extra cannot be accepted by law

Stagecoach bus company says it is not allowed to take additional money from those using bus passes, even if that did help to make an unprofitable bus route viable.

In a statement for the company, spokesman Tracey Warmington said routes need to take enough from fares to pay for the running costs of the service – such as the driver’s pay, fuel, tyres and maintenance.

But the company only receives approximately half the fare reimbursed for rides by those using bus passes, rendering some services unviable.

“Concessionary fares are governed by the English National Concessionary Fares Scheme,” she said.

“The rules governing this scheme and the formula for reimbursement to bus operators of fares... are set nationally and it is illegal for bus companies to charge a supplement or accept additional contributions from passengers.

“The reimbursement amounts to about half of the ordinary fare.”

Ms Warmington said the revised timetable for Bodicote, to include Longford Park, would allow residents of Chatsworth Drive and Cherwell Heights and Bankside to use the new B3 whichfollows the same route as the current B2 between Banbury town centre and Bankside.

“These are all the same stops being served in both directions,” she said.

The only Easington Stagecoach services are the 488 and 489 along Bloxham Road. The B1 to and from Easington stopped in 2016 when county subsidies ended.

Several bus routes to change

Stagecoach will change some bus routes on November 5.

The B8 and B10 will be replaced by a new B9 up to Ruscote and Hardwick.

The B5 Bretch Hill bus will be extended to provide service to Ermont Way. The B2 Bodicote bus will be replaced by a B3 which will mean loss of two stops in East Street, Bodicote but introducing stops in Longford Park.

A new B4 service will run from the bus station to the old ‘Hella’ roundabout past Waitrose and Tesco, from 10.15am - 3.15pm.

The S4 Oxford - Banbury will leave Deddington (towards Banbury) ten minutes earlier at 6.17am and 7am. And the existing 500 Banbury to Brackley bus will have new morning journeys to Banbury Gateway and Wildmere Industrial Estate. See www.stagecoach.com/timetables or call 01865 772250.

What do you think of the looming changes to Banbury’s bus services and the whole system?

Have your say by writing to the editor at editorial@banburyguardian.co.uk or the details on our website.