Waiting for a bus in Lancashire can be a grubby business, thanks to council cuts.
The county’s humble bus shelters are being neglected, it is claimed, as dwindling Town Hall resources are diverted to more needy services.
Where once councils cleaned their shelters as regularly as every fortnight, some are lucky to get a wash and brush up twice a year, say concerned commuters. And council chiefs admit things are unlikely to get any better as public spending is reined in more and more.
“It’s not just bus shelters, it’s things like grass verges and hedges not being trimmed as often as they were,” confessed Preston Tory Councillor David Hammond.
“Everything is looking pretty tatty to be honest. And I can’t see it improving at the moment.”
Preston is the home of what one Evening Post reader described as “the filthiest bus shelter in the county.”
The stop, in Lightfoot Lane in Fulwood, near to Preston Grasshoppers’ ground, is, by coincidence, in Coun Hammond’s Greyfriars Ward.
So too is the bus shelter in Black Bull Lane, which a local resident reported recently as in desperate need of a clean up.
Ironically Coun Hammond’s voters have some of the biggest houses in the city and therefore pay the top rate of council tax.
“I agree it’s a bit ironic,” he said. “These cutbacks are a sign of the times. But it’s difficult to convery that to the electorate – particularly in a ward like mine which pays more council tax than any other ward in the borough. I imagine they expect their grass verges to be cut and footpaths to be cleared of weeds.”
Coun Hammond is already looking into the complaint about the Black Bull Lane shelter – one of 200 in Preston. He has now added Lightfoot Lane on to his list and was due to visit the site last night to see for himself what has made a traveller brand it “Lancashire’s worst.”
“Preston is no different to any other town or city when it comes to having to make savings,” he said. “Some things are seen as higher priority than bus shelters, hedges and grass verges.
“I’ve got to admit the shelter in Black Bull Lane, near to the Post Office, isn’t very clean at all. It’s dirty, littered with cigarette ends and things like that.
“I’ll be interested to see what the one on Lightfoot Lane is like.”
Preston Council shares responsibility for bus shelters within its boundaries with the highways authority, Lancashire County Council. Of the 200 in the city, around 80 are classed as low maintenace ones on so-called “Quality” bus routes.
Another shelter on Preston Road in Hothersall, near Longridge, has also been flagged up as a potential for Lancashire’s grottiest shelter.
Aidan Turner-Bishop, of the Campiagn for Better Transport in Lancashire, admitted there were problems across the county due to cutbacks, but said: “If you think Preston is bad you want to go to Blackpool. Now that really does get us going.
“Dirty bus shelters and bus stops are things that put people off using public transport. If they are clean and tidy then they sell bus services. But if they are vandalised or full of litter the opposite happens.
“There is one bus shelter in New Hall Lane, Preston that regularly gets smashed to pieces. But overall the city isn’t that badly off compared to some.”
A spokesman for Preston Council explained: “We used to clean our bus shelters once a month, then it went to twice a year. Now, with the latest cutbacks, it is once a year unless there is a particular problems.
“The trouble with Lightfoot Lane is there is a quarry operation nearby and that bus stop gets dirtier than others. We could clean it every day and it would still be dirty because of all the wagons passing by.”
Councillor Robert Boswell, cabinet member for environment, commented: “In the last four years, government funding for the city council has dropped from £19m to £10m a year.
“Cuts have had to be made and the bus shelter cleaning budget is no exception, as we’ve had to cut this budget by at least 50 per cent.
“We maintain 200 bus shelters in Preston and clean them at least once a year.
“If someone reports to us that a bus shelter is overly dirty then we will go and clean it.
“Most of our bus shelters have been upgraded so that they are low maintenance and vandal resistant, but unfortunately people do leave them dirty or even attempt to scratch or burn them, so it is a never ending task really to keep them clean and tidy.”