Union weighs in to Plymouth bus service cuts row
TRANSPORT union RMT today pledged to link up with the local community to fight bus service cuts in the Plymouth region.
The Herald reported yesterday how First Group is planning to axe a series of lifeline routes from October 27.
Residents in the Mainstone area of the city said the loss of their service would leave them feeling completely isolated.
Other bus routes facing the axe from next month include those taking Plymouth passengers to Ivybridge, Tavistock, Torquay and Mount Gould.
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Today's RMT pledge comes after First confirmed it was to press ahead with the plans to seriously alter a total of nine routes with six withdrawn altogether.
The union says the planned cuts – which First blame on “increased competition” – will particularly hit older people, the poor and those with disabilities and make a mockery of a Transport Select Committee report this week that said that the Government and bus companies should be doing more to increase access to transport services for disabled people.
RMT is warning that the move on South West buses this autumn may be the start of a domino process that sees other services shut down or ripped to shreds as the floodgates are unleashed and the bus companies fall back on the same set of excuses to dump routes and concentrate solely on the services that make them the most money.
RMT also pointed out today that First Group are an extremely wealthy company.
First Group made £90.7million operating profit from UK buses in 2012-13, contributing to £335million in total operating profits for company as a whole.
First currently has one-fifth share of the UK’s deregulated bus market worth over £4billion ever year.
The union argues they could easily afford to continue their services in the South West and to retain staff jobs on decent pay and conditions.
RMT General Secretary Bob Crow said this morning: “These savage cuts to services on South West buses could well open the floodgates to an all-out attack which would decimate life-line services across whole communities as the bus companies wheel out a pack of excuses to justify cherry-picking the profitable routes.
“The notion of buses as a public service is alien to the likes of First whose only interest is money and the situation that is developing in the South West only fuels the argument for public ownership to protect those who rely on buses to get about.
“The Commons Transport Committee said this week that bus companies should expand access for people with disabilities, well the politicians should take a look at what is going on right now where those same people will end up as prisoners in their own homes as their last transport links are severed in the name of profit.
“RMT will step up our campaigning work with the communities standing up and fighting these cuts.”
WHERE THE ACE WILL FALL
RESIDENTS say they will be "isolated" and "absolutely lost" when a series of changes to First bus routes come into force next month.
In total nine services will be changed, six routes withdrawn and two new services brought in.
But the director of First South West, Alex Carter, said the company had been "forced to make decisions we didn't want to make" as a result of increased competition and drops in passenger numbers.
Mr Carter told The Herald the business needed to make the changes in order to remain "sustainable" and provide a service to those living in Plymouth and South Devon.
He said the "majority" of their passengers would be affected by the change whether that's in alterations to the timetables, new services in their area or left without a bus service at all.
The withdrawal of the number 15 First bus route will leave those living in Mainstone with no access to a bus service in the immediate area.
Sylvia Puleston, aged 83, said she used the service four or five times a week from her home at Pattinson Court.
She said: "We can't believe it's happening, it's going to be such a big thing for people here who can't get about without the bus. There are some people who can manage the walk but it won't be for much longer.
"We feel we would be absolutely lost without it especially with the winter weather coming in."
Trina Hearn, a scheme manager at Pattinson Court, said: "It isn't just us it's the whole area that's affected. People are not going to be able to go anywhere and will be confined to the scheme or forced to rely on taxis and family members who work throughout the day.
"The government gave them a lovely concession of a free bus pass which gave them great freedom and in turn made such a wonderful difference to their lives, they can leave after 9.30am and go wherever they like but now we are not on the loop at all."
Ms Hearn said residents at Pattinson Court ranged in age from 55 to those in their 90s.
She added: "We would be happy with just an hourly service."
Mr Carter said he apologised to the residents in Mainstone who would be left with no other bus route.
"The Mainstone part of the route has been fairly light on usage and we haven't found it justifiable to keep it there.
"We apologise to the residents of Mainstone for the inconvenience they feel but in this harsh economic climate the numbers didn't support us on a financial basis.
"I can't offer any real glimmer of hope in terms of an alternative service but we have been operating with Plymouth City Council providing them with data of usage and putting staff on the buses to observe the overall usage."
Other services withdrawn include the number 5 (city to Mount Gould), number 6 (city to Staddiscombe), number 7 (city to Elburton) and the X80 and X81 buses between Plymouth and Torquay. First say that other alternative services may be available.
The changes take effect on October 27 and other affected services include: 2, 3, 3A, 4, 83, 84, 86, 93 and PR1.
Competitors CityBus also announced changes to their services this year which included amendments to the 40/41 services and the introduction of a new Torpoint connection.
Explaining the reasoning behind the service revamp, Mr Carter said increased competition has been a "catalyst".
"At the end of the day we have to take a hard look at what the business can sustain and what is the right service for the people of Plymouth and South Devon.
"The increased competitive activity has forced us to make decisions we didn't want to make, it has been a catalyst to sharpen up our product.
"It is also about saving money as well as generating more usage of buses. It's important we look after existing customers as best we can but also to encourage people to look at using the bus as an alternative to the car."
As a result the company will be bringing in a host of fare changes in a bid to encourage new bus users.
Some of the changes to the fares could include cheaper child tickets and the age range increased to options for pensioners travelling outside of the free bus pass timings.
Mr Carter added: "We are really looking forward to trying out some of these changes and see how they are received by our customers."