PARK and rides in Worcester are being completely scrapped - and bus services across the county axed or downgraded in a shock cull.
After months of deliberation, Worcestershire County Council is about to finalise controversial public transport cuts.
- Both of Worcester's park and ride sites at Perdiswell and Sixways will be shut down in September
- 13 bus services will be scrapped, at least five will charge increased fares and only 17 of the 97 under review will remain exactly the same as now
- 52 bus routes will provide either 'similar' or downgraded services, with less frequent pick-ups for many of them
A new report, which is due to be debated by the Conservative cabinet today, spells out how £1.6 million will be saved by the move.
It follows a massive public consultation which more than 8,500 people responded to, an unprecedented tally for the council, pleading for bus services to avoid the chop.
The council spends £3 million a year on subsidising buses, particularly weekend and evening services and pick-ups in rural areas.
Last year it announced a proposal to reduce it to nothing, but after a public outcry reduced the saving to £1.6 million from September.
In recent months the council has been trying to take on a private operator fro both park and rides, but could not find any takers.
The Perdiswell site, which opened to much fanfare in 2001, cost taxpayers £2.5 million and peaked in 2008 when 450,000 people used it, with a 68p subsidy per trip.
But its popularity dwindled in recent years and usage fell to 274,000 in 2013/14.
The Sixways service, which takes people to Worcestershire Royal Hospital, cost £5.8 million to open in 2009 but only attracted 63,596 customers last year - with the public purse subsidy £1.66p per user.
The impending closures of both sites was yesterday labelled a "disaster" for Worcestershire, especially as only five years ago the county council's leadership revealed it wanted to create more in areas like Claines, Lower Broadheath and St Peter's.
The shock decision comes after months of concern about their dwindling popularity, with the sites losing £250,000 a year.
Councillor John Smith, cabinet member for transport and highways, said: "On some days we have less than 200 cars on the park and rides - it's simply not sustainable."
He added: "The financial challenge the council is facing means we have tough choices to make as we continue to look at how we spend taxpayers' money is spent - this is one such issue."
He said 80 per cent of the county's bus services will remain the same as they do not require subsides, despite the cuts.
But Councillor Richard Udall, from the opposition Labour group, said: "This is gut-wrenching news and will leave so many people out in the cold.
"No park and ride is a complete disaster for Worcestershire, it's an outrage to cut it in such a cavalier, dramatic way. I'm shocked."
IT WILL ONLY INCREASE CONGESTION, SAY CRITICS
CRITICS say scrapping park and ride services in Worcester will only increase congestion - and are pleading for a re-think.
Worcester Green Party says it is prepared to launch a campaign to get the county council to do a u-turn on ditching both sites.
Councillor Matthew Jenkins, the county council's lone Green, says more effort should have been made to promote the facilities better.
"We had a meeting about it on Friday and I made the point that the front page of Friday's Worcester News was about the congestion being bad," he said.
"It's bizarre, to me it seems very short-term - surely we need to be thinking about where we want Worcester to be in 20 years time.
"How will we reduce the city's traffic? All this will lead to is more cars and more pollution.
"The council say people don't see buses as a priority according to the surveys they do, but if you ask people in Worcester, the main issue they raise is congestion."
Councillor John Smith, the cabinet member responsible for traffic, says he expects the overall impact to be "minimal".
He also said of the 52 routes where "similar" timetables will launch from September, any downgrading might not be as bad as feared.
"The tenders (contracts bus companies sign) are not up until the end of June and then we should be clear on the changes," he said.
"Of those routes where we say it will be similar timetables it may go from half-an-hour to an hour, or two-hourly instead of every hour, or it may stay the same."
He said if the council went ahead with the old plan to axe the whole £3 million yearly transport subsidy, services would have been hit far worse.
A handful of routes are even being improved, like the 26/27 Worcester to Dines Green on Friday and Saturday evenings, after operators agreed to put on extra buses.
Bus passengers say they have mixed views about the cuts.
Pensioner Dorothy Hughes, 71, from St John's is a regular on the 31A from Worcester to Worcestershire Royal Hospital, which is going hourly and scrapping Sunday and some evening pick-ups.
"I'm glad they haven't got rid of it altogether, it's vital for me," she said.
"There is some sense of relief, I suppose, but I don't know why they are taking any money away from buses in the first place.
"If you can't make it a priority, I don't know why I paid my taxes."
JUST SOME OF THE MAJOR BUS CHANGES PLANNED
23 Worcester-Blanquettes Avenue-Longfellow Road-Worcester Service not being replaced
31A / 31C Worcester-Worcestershire Royal Hospital-Warndon-Worcester Service retained but reduced to hourly between the city, Bilford Road and Warndon.
Service in the evening retained between Henwick Park, university, Arena, city and hospital only other evening and Sunday journeys withdrawn
32 Northwick (New Inn)-Worcester via Ombersley Road Friday and Saturday evenings, evening journeys not being replaced
33A / 34A Worcester - Tolladine - Warndon - Lyppard Centre - Tunnel Hill - Worcester: Friday and Saturday evenings, evening journeys not being replaced
41-43 Upton-upon-Severn-Great Malvern via Welland, Hanley Swan, Malvern Wells Service reduced to hourly between Upton and Malvern
166 Worcester-Stratford via Evesham, Bidford-on-Avon: Sundays Service not being replaced.
356-8 Worcester-Droitwich/Grafton Flyford via Crowle, Tibberton, Shernal Green
Similar level of revised service to be provided for journeys towards Worcester but service to Droitwich to be discontinued and Oddingley/Shernal Green will not be served
382 Worcester-Pershore via Norton, Littleworth, Defford, Eckington: Friday and Saturday evenings Evening journeys not being replaced
500 Burford-Leominster via Tenbury, Kimbolton: Friday only Service not being replaced
551 Worcester-Evesham via Drakes Broughton, Pershore, Fladbury: Friday and Saturday evenings Evening journeys not being replaced
564/565 Pershore Inkberrow-Evesham-Elmley Castle-Pershore, Wychavon -Hopper Reduced level of service to be provided with current school movements accommodated
582 Evesham-Hampton-Fairfield- Evesham Saturday service Reduced level of service may be provided
R4 Willersey-Broadway-Evesham: Early morning Early morning journeys may be withdrawn
S1 Droitwich - Blessed Edward Oldcorne School Service retained, with increased fares
S2 Droitwich/Primsland-Blessed Edward Oldcorne School via Fernhill Heath Service retained, with increased fares
S3 Blackpole-Blessed Edward Oldcorne School via Warndon, Warndon Villages Revised network of services from Worcester estates to Blessed Edward Oldcorne School will provide for current student movements - increased fares
S4/S6 Warndon Villages-Blessed Edward Oldcorne School Revised network of services from Worcester estates to Blessed Edward Oldcorne School will provide for current student movements - increased fares.
Both park and rides axed
* The rest of the routes under threat will either stay the same, see minor improvements or are expected to provide similar or slightly worse services from September subject to talks.