Council lines up £50m bus improvements bid

Ipswich Bus Station

The council wants to work in partnership with operators to improve bus services - Credit: Paul Geater

A £50million bid for Government cash is being made this month to improve bus services across Suffolk over the next three years.

Suffolk County Council’s cabinet is set to approve a Bus Service Improvement Plan (BSIP) which would get under way from April next year.

The authority is seeking £50m over three years – £15m each for the first two years and £20m for year three.

While a detailed plan is currently being worked on, ambitions for those improvements include more frequent turn-up-and-go services, bus priority routes on roads, cheaper fares and daily price caps, multi-service ticketing options, zero-carbon buses, improved evening and weekend services and clearer timetables.

The cabinet’s report says: “The aim of the strategy is to rejuvenate local bus services, making them attractive for passengers, cheaper, easier to understand and use, faster and more reliable, and greener.

“The Bus Back Better national bus strategy provides a real opportunity to be ambitious in delivering a bus service for Suffolk that will support sustainable transport and the council’s carbon reduction ambitions.”

The new model, called an enhanced partnership, will mean the council and bus operators work closely together to form services.

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The report said that the Government’s plan is that “there can be no return to a situation where services are planned on a purely commercial basis with little or no engagement with, or support from, local transport authorities”.

Vertas has yet to obtain an operator's licence to run the school bus services in Suffolk

School bus services would be part of the plan - Credit: Rachel Edge

As well as the carbon reduction benefits of getting people on buses, it is also linked to Covid-19 recovery plans.

The key improvements outlined in the early plans are:

  • A review of service frequency, particularly on key corridors (see below)
  • Simplified services – including both regular scheduled buses and ‘demand-responsive’ services
  • Integrating school bus services with regular public network routes, including increased bus opportunities in rural areas
  • Expand the experimental Katch electric demand-responsive bus currently piloting between Framlingham and Wickham Market to other rural areas
  • Increase bus priority measures – targeting bus corridors through Ipswich and automatic numberplate recognition (ANPR) enforcement of bus lanes
  • Lower fares for those aged up to 25, possibly around a 25% discount in line with the Endeavour Card
  • Contactless touch-on and touch-off ticketing and daily fare caps
  • Multi-operator ticketing
  • Expanding rail and bus ticket options (PlusBus) to Sudbury and Newmarket, and flexible PlusBus options for Ipswich-Felixstowe
  • Explore a potential “Pocket Park & Ride” site in Nacton part of Ipswich
  • Explore merging Ipswich’s two bus stations into one main hub
  • New lighting and markings at bus stops
  • Website improvements to Suffolk On Board and installing 50 real-time display boards at bus stations
  • Improved bus routes to and from tourism hotspots
  • Exploring ways of de-carbonising buses
Mid Suffolk Green councillor Keith Welham said more must be done to help Stowmarket thrive. PIcture:

Keith Welham, transport spokesman from the council’s opposition Green, Liberal Democrat and Independent group - Credit: Archant

Keith Welham, transport spokesman from the council’s opposition Green, Liberal Democrat and Independent group, said procuring electric buses and addressing isolation from a lack of rural bus routes were essential.

He added: “It is absolutely vital to the people of Suffolk that the county council submit an ambitious Bus Service Improvement Plan to ensure that we have a chance to receive the funding so desperately needed to provide bus services to all of our residents.

“Our services have been reduced to such an extent over recent years that in many rural areas, it is non-existent.

“We welcome the ambition being shown, but we need to see an ongoing commitment from the Cabinet.  We need a public transport strategy which will provide the travel opportunities our residents need without having to resort to using a private car.”

Suffolk’s 10 key corridors

The report has identified 10 key corridors in Suffolk – some of which are cross border – which need greater investment for evening and weekend services. Those routes are:

  • Bungay – Norwich
  • Lowestoft – Beccles – Norwich
  • Lowestoft – James Paget University Hospital – Great Yarmouth
  • Lowestoft – Southwold
  • Ipswich – Ipswich Hospital – Kesgrave – Martlesham Park & Ride
  • Ipswich – Ipswich Hospital – Felixstowe
  • Ipswich – London Road Park & Ride
  • Haverhill – Addenbrooke’s Hospital – Cambridge
  • Bury St Edmunds – Newmarket
  • Bury St Edmunds – Thetford – Brandon