Has Preston bus station boycott been averted?
An “amicable agreement” has been reached over plans to increase charges for travel companies using Preston bus station.
That is according to Lancashire County Council’s cabinet member for transport, Keith Iddon, who said the previous threat of a boycott by operators had caused him “great concern”.
The firm was responding to proposed changes in how operators pay for the privilege of running buses from the station.
Currently, companies are charged an annual rent of £5,620 for every bay which they occupy. But County Hall proposed to move to a system of charging a fee every time a vehicle departs the site, bringing Preston in line with the other three council-run bus stations in the county – in Chorley, Accrington and Nelson.
The fee in Preston was due to be introduced at 55 pence per departure as of April, before rising to 85 pence by 2021. Under revised plans, the charge will start at 45 pence per bus from June.
A meeting of Lancashire County Council’s cabinet heard the operators are currently paying the equivalent of 25 pence under the rental system and had wanted the new arrangements to begin at 40 pence.
“The new bus station has got to pay its way,” County Cllr Iddon said.
“Having negotiated with the bus companies, we decided we were going to [level the charge] in increments. I’m sure that will benefit the firms, because they don’t [have to pay] the extra charges all at once and they have time to adjust to it.
“The last thing we want to see is the buses taken off the road and I think it’s an amicable agreement,” he added.
Preston Bus has been contacted for comment.
It was estimated that the original plan would have increased the average cost incurred by operators by over 50 percent. Under the new arrangements, that average falls to 19 percent across all operators this year, rising to 64 percent in 2020.
However, County Hall says the present rental charge could have been a barrier to smaller operators using the station.
The county’s other council-operated bus stations will also see an increase from the current departure charge of 75 pence per vehicle up to 85 pence by April 2021.
Papers presented to the cabinet reveal that the four facilities cost £1.3m per a year for the council to run. After income from bus companies, the authority exceeded its allocated budget for the sites by £348,000 in the current financial year.
Once the new departure charge has been fully rolled out, that overspend will fall to £69,000 by 2021/22.