THE head of public transport in Worcestershire has been grilled over proposals to axe £3m of bus subsidies - and warned it is “not as simple” as just increasing fares.
Peter Blake, the head of integrated transport, also insisted he understands public frustration, but said “swathes” of the rest of the country are having to make similar cuts.
Speaking during a Q&A at the county council, he told politicians there is interest from operators about saving some of the 88 services at risk of the chop.
It came after the Mayor of Tenury, Councillor George Price made an emotional appeal to him at the start of the debate, saying he fears “rural isolation” will get hold of people.
As your Worcester News first revealed last month, the council is consulting over removing its entire bus and park and ride funding from September next year.
It includes Worcester’s two park and rides at Perdiswell and Sixways, and 88 bus services on 43 routes, including many evening and weekend pick-ups.
During a meeting of the economy, environment and communities panel, Mr Blake was challenged about why the council doesn’t just hike up fares.
Mr Blake said: “Broadly speaking, on these subsidised routes we have to reflect typical fares across the county.
“We are required, under legislation to make them broadly comparable, so it’s not as simple as just putting fares up.
“It’s a tricky one, because if you put fares up people travel less.
“It might be part of the solution in some areas, but we are far from saying ‘we’ll put up fares across the board and everything will be rosy’.”
He said he was keen to “get under the skin” of which routes really matter the most to the public while talks with operators continue.
“That’s what we are aiming for, to get a broad understanding of what matters the most,” he said.
He told the panel there are “interested groups” who are talking with the council about providing some services, as well as operators.
“In some areas there is a focus on getting viable, sustainable community enterprises,” he said.
“We have said ‘local group, can you take that service and make it work’.
The consultations are carrying on into January, ahead of setting the 2014/15 budget in February.
Councillor Price, the Mayor of Tenbury, told the meeting he was concerned about the 291 bus, which goes to Kidderminster.
He said: “Without the bus service this journey, for many people will be impossible - it is a lifeline to essential services.”
He said “rural isolation” was his biggest fear unless proper solutions can be found.