FINAL council plans are being put into place to use Government grant monies to drive through improvements to bus services across North East Lincolnshire.
It was announced earlier this year that North East Lincolnshire Council and its regeneration partner Equans had secured £4,684,754 from the Department of Transport to action a new Bus Service Improvement Plan. To secure the funding, the council was required to form an Enhanced Bus Quality Partnership, which includes operator Stagecoach amongst other key partners.
Bus routes, fares and the improvement of infrastructure are key elements of the plan, which was approved by the Department earlier this year. As the final steps are being taken to release the grant funding, the council continues to work with the DfT and Stagecoach to agree a priority programme.
This, says council Portfolio Holder for Environment and Transport Cllr Stewart Swinburn, will seek to address, where it can, issues experienced by passengers in borough – accepting that problems with driver recruitment are a wider, national issue.
In the meantime, the council is in regular discussions with Stagecoach to ensure all possible is being done to maintain regular services. Cllr Swinburn confirmed he had met with the operator in recent weeks and would continue to do so.
The meetings follow a letter written by Cllr Swinburn to Stagecoach East Midlands’ Managing Director seeking reassurances that action would be taken as soon as possible to ease the problems being experienced. It highlighted the short-term cancellations of services in North East Lincolnshire during September, and the impact that was having on residents.
He wrote: “As the Portfolio Holder, I fully acknowledge the importance of maintaining an effective bus network across the borough to sustain access to employment, education, leisure, and health facilities. This is especially important for the elderly, young people or other groups who do not have access to other modes of transport.”
Cllr Swinburn added how other councillors had raised the issue with him, and it was also a matter that was being discussed at a Full Council meeting.
“We are looking to reassure residents and businesses that we are working with Stagecoach to improve public transport provision. We do this knowing that the challenges faced by bus operators with recruiting additional drivers are linked to the national shortage of bus drivers and the national recruitment crisis, which is impacting services across the country. We know however that Stagecoach is working hard to employ more drivers, with driver recruitment and retention, being a top priority,” said Cllr Swinburn.
“Operators are fully aware of the impact their services and performance have on the community and are looking at measures for added reassurance and resilience in their service,” he added.
As the council and its Enhanced Bus Quality Partnership awaited release of the grant funding and actioned its priority plans, Cllr Swinburn assured residents that the council’s work with Stagecoach would continue.
“Both I and the wider Partnership will continue to work together to monitor services and deliver service improvements. This dialogue ensures concerns and frustrations of people within the borough are shared with Stagecoach,” he said.
Discussions around further powers to regulate local services would be welcomed and considered, added Cllr Swinburn.