'˜We are still third cheapeast in UK'
Transport chiefs today blamed soaring costs and a loss of county council funding for an increase in bus and tram fares.
Blackpool Transport said cuts totalling more than £500,000 mean fares will rise by up to 20 per cent from May 1, the first hike to hit standard single fare prices in six years.
The increases work out at an average of 3.5 per cent.
There will be no change to the Blackpool1 range of 24 hour, three day, weekly, and monthly tickets, 19 to 19 tickets, or child fares, the firm, which is owned by Blackpool Council, said.
£1 bus fares will increase to £1.20, £1.50 will rise to £1.60, £2 to £2.10, and £2.50 to £2.60.
Tram fares will increase from £1.50 to £1.60, £2 to £2.10, and £2.50 to £2.60.
Bob Mason, service delivery director at Blackpool Transport, said the decision was not taken lightly, and comes as raw material and staffing costs ‘exceed 3.5 per cent’.
That, combined with the loss of subsidies from the county council, has hit the service ‘quite significantly’ over the past three years, he said.
“What’s important is we are still the third cheapest bus operator in the UK,” he told The Gazette.
“The other thing that’s important is if you are a regular traveller there is no change to the Blackpool1 saver tickets.
“If we wanted to be greedy, we would have put them up, but we have recognised the residents of Blackpool are regular users and they will not be penalised.
“This is not a decision we have taken lightly, it’s no secret bus operators’ funding has reduced quite significantly.
“We are doing everything we can to provide a service at good value.”
Mr Mason said the Blackpool1 day ticket last increased around 18 months ago, and said standard singles have not increased in price since 2010.
He also defended the firm’s decision to spend more than £2m on a fleet of 10 new buses, a move announced in January.
The Enviro400 City buses feature e-leather seating, wood-effect floors, wireless internet and USB charging points, and other ‘smart accessories’.
“We have to renew the fleet or there would be no bus service in Blackpool,” Mr Mason said. “Our fleet is ageing and there has been a lack of investment.
“At no stage has the fleet replacement programme had anything to do with this increase.”
But opposition leader at Blackpool Council, Coun Tony Williams, said: “The question is can people afford it? We need good transport links in Blackpool and people need to get to work.
“It’s quite a large increase I think. There’s not a lot to say apart from the rates are too high.
“It would have been more conducive if they had left it how it was. The timing is wrong and it’s too much.
“This will affect a lot of people who use buses every day – it’s an extra £50 over a year, it’s not pocket change.”
Earlier this month, a new timetable was introduced across the Fylde coast as two bus routes lost their county council funding: The 12 and 13 north circular route from Staining to Blackpool via Poulton, and part of the 2C route from Poulton to Knott End, which no longer runs on evenings or Sundays.
Lancashire County Council said it faces an ‘unprecedented challenge’ as it tries to make £262m of savings on top of those already agreed in previous budgets because of government funding cuts, rising costs, and an increase in demand for key services.
It informed bus operators £5m of subsidies would stop from April 2, and admitted the move would impact on frontline services.
A spokesman for Lancashire County Council said: “The budget to support buses has been reduced from around £7m to £2m due to the severe pressures on the county council’s budget.
“Our continued support for 28 bus routes with the reduced budget of £2m, along with the decision by bus companies to continue to operate 40 routes without our support, means that most areas of the county have retained a public transport connection.
“The Cabinet Working Group for Buses made recommendations which focused on using the remaining £2m budget to prioritise support for journeys when people would most need them to access employment and education, and vital services such as health.”
David Sidebottom, passenger director at indepedent watchdog Transport Focus, said: “Bus passengers in Blackpool, especially those who rely on the bus for work or education, will be disappointed by these inflation-busting fare rises.
“However, our latest passenger survey in Blackpool found that 80 per cent of fare payers were satisfied with the value for money of services. This was the highest of all the areas we surveyed.
“We will be carrying out this survey again in the autumn, so we’ll be able to see what impact these fare rises have.”
Blackpool Transport’s decision has split The Gazette’s readers, who reacted to the new online yesterday.
One, Margret Smith, said: “I can see if you only use the buses and trams now and again then it will hit the pocket, but for those who use transport all the time and buy a pass, it will not be a problem.”
And Mark Miles wrote: “Blackpool Transport are the reason I learnt to drive. The problem you have is they aren’t bothered in the slightest because they have no real competition in the area.
“You either use them or walk.”