Stranded residents are refusing to back down in their battle for a bus service, despite being told public transport is “unsustainable” in their part of Preston.
Campaigners representing more than 3,000 people in the Longsands area of Fulwood are adamant they will fight on regardless of their latest knock-back by County Hall.
Plans for a 22-seater shuttle put forward by Preston Bus to “plug a gap in the network” have been turned down by the authority because officers claim it would be too costly.
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One County Hall official said: “At a time of limited county council funding going forward, options need to be financially sustainable.”
Yet one residents’ leader insisted: “This is not the end of the road.”
Linda Whyborn, who launched the campaign for a new Longsands bus service in early August, stormed: “We have to fight on.
“How can they turn their backs on more than 3,000 people in this area of the city? It’s absurd.”
Locals, who lost the Preston Bus No 14 service more than six weeks ago on cost grounds, claim they are having to walk more than a mile to Watling Street Road in all weathers to reach public transport.
“One man I’ve spoken to has to walk there and back every day and he was drenched the other night when he got home,” she said. “Yet the county council seem to think that is acceptable.
“The clocks go back at the weekend and it will be even darker in an afternoon. It’s dangerous.
“After our last meeting with councillors and Preston Bus it really did seem promising. We thought that, at last, we were going to get something.
“But now they have turned round and told us the amount of subsidy needed to run a shuttle bus would be too much.
“They say there wouldn’t be enough passengers to sustain it. But how do they know if they don’t give it at least a trial period?”
Residents were told the news in a letter from LCC’s public and integrated transport department.
It said: “Whilst this proposal (shuttle bus) may look to plug a current gap in the network, such a specialised standalone service would definitely require significant financial support.
“It is expected the shuttle bus will result in significantly lower patronage than the number of customers who previously travelled on the withdrawn service 14. This would mean the fares revenue will also be much lower.
“Therefore it is the county council’s view that the shuttle bus option would be unsustainable and not something we would be looking to take forward.”
In his letter to residents, Ashley Weir, LCC’s principal transportation officer for local buses, added: “We are continuing to explore other funding opportunities to match fund or secure alternative revenue streams from the other major developments in the north Preston area to provide bus services.
“Whilst the shuttle proposal was put forward by Preston Bus, discussions are also taking place with other commercial service providers.
“We all acknowledge that residents from Longsands would like to see the restoration of a bus service to serve their local community, however at a time of limited county council funding going forward, options need to be financially sustainable.
“I appreciate this may not meet your satisfaction, however I hope it explains the current position and although I’m unable to add anything further at this time, I will continue to keep you updated should anything develop in the near future.”
‘3,000 people left stranded’
The Longsands bus row erupted in early August when Preston Bus announced the No 14 service would no longer serve that part of Fulwood from September 3.
An online petition was launched calling on the company to keep the route operational and for the county council to find the necessary subsidy to sustain it. But despite the local unrest the service ended, as planned, at the start of September, with residents claiming more than 3,000 people had been “left stranded and abandoned” without any form of public transport.
Meetings have taken place between residents, bus company officers and both city and county councillors to explore alternatives.
When a full restoration of the service was ruled out, the idea of a 22-seater shuttle bus several times of the day was put forward. But now, without sufficient County Hall subsidy, that option has also been blocked.
Solution sought by members of Preston City Council
Members of Preston City Council unanimously backed a move to push for a solution with the county authority.
They want to see Lancashire County Council find an alternative route in order to restore a bus service linking Longsands, Ronaldsway and Little Brookfield residents to the city centre.
At a meeting discussing the issue at Town Hall on Thursday Coun Pauline Brown told members about a woman with multiple sclerosis who has been cut off from her parents as a result of the axed bus route.
She said: “She can’t visit her parents anymore and they can’t visit her.”