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Melksham bus service cuts – despite car parking charge hikes

PROPOSED cuts to the Zigzag bus service has raised concern among local people who say that when car parking charges were increased, Wiltshire Council said it was to help fund bus services such as the Zigzag. However, the council now say their hand is forced by “huge pressures on local government funding.”

As reported in the last issue of the Melksham News, the cuts will affect villagers around Melksham such as Holt, Broughton Gifford, Shaw, Atworth and Whitley who use the service to reach Corsham and Trowbridge, through Melksham. Wiltshire Council is now consulting on changes to the service.

Local resident, Ruth Griffin said, “I feel cross that all the folk who do use the Zigzag are council tax payers who should get at least something for their money!”

President of Melksham Chamber of Commerce, Graham Ellis said, “ I’m delighted to see Wiltshire Council consulting on the future shape of Zigzag bus services – an emotive subject which has raised comment in the Melksham Independent News, and so many people wanting to speak at the Melksham Area Board that some couldn’t be called!

“The consultation suggests a severe cut – remove a vehicle, reduce lesser used services, and patch up the gaps by amending timings with the remaining bus.   I have another idea – how about taking the other buses connecting our towns, and subsidise – to a much lower level – parts of these services to vary their routes.”

Ian White, head of service – passenger transport for Wiltshire Council responded to the criticism saying, “Yes, the council did increase car parking charges in part to help fund bus services such as Zigzag. However, there are huge pressures on local government funding.

“The council’s financial plan for 2013/14 includes a requirement to reduce spending on supported bus services by £181,000. Without the extra money from the car park charges the reductions would undoubtedly have been much more severe.

“We have decided to look first at services that are less well used, and in particular those which are relatively expensive to provide.

“The £108,000 subsidy to the Zigzag service equates to around £3.75 for every passenger journey made on the service, which exceeds the guideline maximum set out in the Local Transport Plan. The average number of passengers picked up over the whole length of the route is on average only 8-9 per journey.

“Bus companies have since 1986 been privately owned, and have to make a profit to survive. They are able to operate services on a commercial basis (i.e. without subsidy) wherever they want and without any involvement by the local authority.

“There is no obligation on bus companies to provide services to meet social or community needs, but local authorities have the power to fund such services and enter in contracts with operators to provide them. Wiltshire Council provides over £4million a year to fund services of this sort, which account for the other half of bus mileage operated in the county.”

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