Wealdlink Community Trustees have said it will take time to build-up passengers on the Saturday 261 service linking Uckfield with the Ashdown Forest.
The comment followed a town council decision to put more money into the project to keep it running in the new year. Our report of the meeting, and the papers put before the council is here.
David and Linda Graham, Trustees, Wealdlink Community Transport, contacted Uckfieldnews.com.
“Low usage”: First of all, low usage of the Saturday 261 service was the reason Seaford and District relinquished the service, also the reason East Sussex County Council were not prepared to support the service financially.
There is a trend for commercial operators having to cut services that are not commercially viable, and community transport operators are increasingly being asked to take these services on using 15-seater minibuses as a substitute for larger (22 + seater) vehicles.
We did not expect a high level of usage initially, and our experience is that a new service takes a few months to become established.
We have printed over 1,000 leaflets: these are in libraries, shops etc throughout the area and the public are gradually getting to know about, and use, the service, but it all takes time.
“More” money requested: When we were first requested to take on this service, we were very clear about how much it would cost (in the region of £9,000 per annum).
The Wealden Bus Alliance contributed £1000 towards the first year’s operation and paid for the printing of the leaflets; there would be some fares income; but the remainder had to be found elsewhere, and initially both Maresfield Parish Council (who had asked us to take on the service) and Uckfield Town Council were only prepared to contribute £2,000 each, clearly not sufficient to cover the cost of the first year’s operation.
Cannot operate at a loss
We cannot operate any service at a loss and therefore asked the councils in September if they would be prepared to find the balance of the originally quoted cost (not more, actually slightly less) to enable us to continue to the end of the current financial year.
We have also assured them that if their contributions are not used up by that date, any surplus will either be refunded or carried forward to cover the cost of the following year.
As at October 8th, after 20 weeks, there had been 338 passenger journeys on this service, 279 of them concessionary. We have now received the first payment from MCL Claims (who distribute concessionary fare rebates), covering concessionary fares issued up to the end of September. This will help to bring down the cost of the service.
It is true that Hartfield Parish Council are not making a contribution, but starting the route from Hartfield (where we are based) increases the average fare upon which the concessionary fares rebate is based.
In any case we do not see it as our role to seek funding for a service not instigated by us.
Shoppers not taken away from Uckfield
Shopping: A number of passengers travel from Hartfield, Nutley and Maresfield into Uckfield to shop.
Our experience is that those passengers picking up the bus in Uckfield do so for other purposes (walking on the Forest, visiting care homes, returning home) and do not shop elsewhere.
So we are not taking trade away from Uckfield.
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