Bus services in East Dorset are of little use says councillors

Any rural Dorset bus routes are of little, or no use – according to some Dorset councillors.

One told of the impossibility of making certain journeys, including from East Dorset to Poole, which would only allow 22 minutes in the town before having to catch the last bus back.

The claims are backed by an online public survey which shows only 29per cent of those who responded being satisfied or very satisfied with bus services.

The debate about buses came after Dorset Council failed to win any Government funding to improve services, while the Bournemouth, Poole and Christchurch area, won £8.9million.

Currently, the X6 bus runs from Verwood to Poole around once an hour on weekdays and takes around 90 minutes.

Dorset’s Bus Service Improvement Plan (BSIP) of 2022 has since been ‘refreshed’ after the council responded to the Government’s Bus Back Better programme which offered a mix of capital and revenue funding.

Instead of growing and improving services it now concentrates on maintaining existing routes and persuading more people to use them.

Head of Dorset Travel Sue McGowan told the council’s place and resources scrutiny committee that it remained a mystery why the Dorset bid failed to achieve any Government funding.

She said that the lack of award was not a reflection on the quality of the Dorset bid with only 31 out of 79 applications getting the help they asked for and not all of those which were successful being funded in full.

She said that many of those who did win awards concentrated on capital spending; creating bus lanes for example; projects which, she said, were generally more suited to an urban rather than a rural environment.

Cabinet member Cllr Ray Bryan said the county already had a depleted bus network at the time it put in “an absolutely cracking” £130m bid for bus service improvement – and was still waiting for an explanation why the county received nothing.

“I’m sat here seething because we’re left trying to defend something when we don’t know what the problem was in the first place.”

Cllr Bryan said he had made a presentation to the Parliamentary Transport Select Committee about how Dorset and other rural areas were neglected when it came to public transport funding. He said he would now be calling on West Dorset MP, Chris Loder, for some help on the issue.

“This is something we are going to fight hard on…frustration is an absolute understatement,” he said.

The meeting heard that the bus industry was still operating at pre-Covid levels while at the same time operating costs had increased, putting more routes at risk.

“We want to deliver meaningful improvements in partnership with the operators and other stakeholders, but within our existing budget,” she said.

Councillors were told there was now an expectation that commercial operators would co-operate with each other and work in an “enhanced partnership” with the council to help better serve customers – in the short-term concentrating on protecting existing services and increasing the number of users. Other ideas include introducing an all-Dorset ticket which would be accepted by all operators, encourage more modern buses to be brought into use and to seek new sources of funding, possibly including funding from town and parish councils.

Cllr Tony Alford said he struggled to find in the report what the Dorset Bus Improvement Plan offered rural areas. He said the suggestion that you could catch a train to Maiden Newton only emphasised the lack of connectivity because, once you were there, there was no connection to any other service.

St Leonards and St Ives councillor Cllr Barry Goringe cited problems for bus users in his area getting to Poole.

“You would have no chance at all of doing anything in Poole. If you had a hospital appointment, for example, you would have 22 minutes to get that over with and back on the bus again…the 38 bus is not fit for purpose and ends at 1.10pm every day. There is no service after that time,” he said.

He said it had been suggested that the parish council set up a community bus service for the area but would need to find the funds to buy a minibus.

Cllr David Tooke said Alderholt was also badly served with the 97 running on just three days a week, off-peak: “Absolutely no use at all for anyone who wants to commute,” he said, claiming the route was unlikely to be sustainable in the long term… “the perceived wisdom is that you need two cars if you’re to stand any chance of getting out of the village,” he said.

Said Cllr Piers Brown, whose Cranborne Chase ward only has one bus a day: “Ultimately we all want more buses going to more places with more people on them but that takes hard cash we just don’t have.”

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