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LOCAL public transport campaigners have put forward an exciting idea which they believe could save bus services in Melksham and across Wiltshire.
TransWilts has proposed a new approach to running bus services, named Option 24/7, after Wiltshire Council announced heavy cuts to bus services which, critics say, will have a devastating impact on local bus services.
Option 24/7 proposes that a new bus network is set up, with bus companies being paid an agreed rate. This would replace the current system where bus companies operate the profitable routes, leaving the council to subsidise the loss-making routes.
“A reorganised network that could take out duplication, run buses around varied routes and use local knowledge could provide a better service for almost everyone, even with slightly fewer vehicles,” explained campaigner and Melksham resident Graham Ellis.
“We think there is a real alternative to wholesale cuts by changing the way contracts are awarded. With our proposal, the bus companies would be paid a set amount to operate each route so that the money made from the profitable routes would cover the loss-making ones.
“Our plan would allow Wiltshire Council to achieve their required budget savings, but without the massive service cuts proposed.
“Our scheme would also involve the local community in planning routes.
“If Wiltshire Council was to cut all subsidies – which is one of the six options they are proposing – that would probably leave Melksham with only Monday to Saturday daytime buses to Bath, Devizes, Chippenham and Trowbridge, and statutory school buses.
“Sadly, the consultation we’re offered in Wiltshire is along the lines of ‘which cuts do you want?’ Their supporting document tells us how important buses are for the young, the elderly, those who cannot afford to run a car, or who want to go out for the evening and get home safely, and yet we’re offered cuts.”
Nearly 100 bus services in the county could be affected by potential cuts as the council looks to save £2.5million next year. Affected services in Melksham could include the 14 Melksham Town Service, the 68/69 ZigZag service, the 76 and the 271.
A public consultation on how the council could best save money is currently under way at www.wiltshire.gov.uk/subsidised-bus-services-consultation, with details of option 24/7 at www.option247.uk
The proposed cuts have been harshly criticised for being likely to impact vulnerable people the most.
Melksham Without parish councillor Terry Chivers said, “The government and Wiltshire Council are about to make the most savage cuts to the local bus network that have ever been seen. 50% of bus services are supported by Wiltshire Council, and any cuts will have a devastating effect and leave thousands of local residents without any form of transport unless they are lucky enough to have their own.
“Buses are the most frequently used form of public transport. Day in and day out they link thousands of people up and down the county to jobs, schools and shops. Jobseekers, young people, and the over 60s are the biggest users of bus services.
“Passenger cars produce nearly 60% of all CO2 emissions from road transport in the UK, compared with just 5% coming from buses. If drivers switched just one in 25 of their car journeys to bus or coach, it would mean one billion fewer car journeys per year.
“I would urge everyone, to take part in this consultation. You may not use buses on a regular basis at the moment but please think of those that do, and take a few minutes to fill in the consultation.”
To find out more about Option 24/7 and how to help it become a reality, go to www.option247.uk