A “DRACONIAN folly” to increase charges to use Spalding’s bus station by 157 per cent has been met with anger by bus companies.
Brylaine Travel has sent back an invoice to South Holland District Council, refusing to pay the fees which have seen their bill for a year rise by around £1,760, while other companies have written letters expressing their disgust.
Malcolm Wheatley, operations manager for Brylaine, said: “If the council continues with this draconian folly we may have to move our buses from the bus station and terminate our services somewhere else, at roadside bus stops or at the train station.
“We want to talk to them and come to some agreement about what is reasonable, especially as the bus station is poorly manager and poorly maintained.”
He said that the bus station is full of potholes, there is no timetable service for passengers and despite the council wanting evening services, the toilets are closed at 4.30pm, leaving drivers to rely on the kindness of Sainsbury’s staff to allow them to use the supermarket facilities.
He added: “Basically we are paying just for the privilege of picking up passengers there.”
The boss of Norfolk Green, which runs services from Spalding to King’s Lynn, has accused the council of “disgraceful behaviour” after they were told of the rise, which has been backdated to last April, in a letter.
Ben Colson said operators are refusing to pay, adding: “We are saying come and negotiate, come and act like normal adults would and stop treating bus users with such contempt because at the end of the day it is the bus users who pay through the fare we have to charge.
“I suppose they are a council and they can do what they want but it’s yet another potential nail in the coffin.
“If there has been a 157 per cent increase in car park charges you can imagine what the riots would be like in the streets of Spalding.”
A spokesman for South Holland District Council said the matter is being investigated and that they were unable to comment further at this time.
The rise comes at a time when bus companies are facing making cutbacks to the services they offer due to a potential £1million cut in funding from Lincolnshire Councty Council.
A meeting is due to be held tomorrow between working parties from the council and operators to hammer out the mechanics of the support for the coming year, including the concessionary fare scheme, which involves the council giving bus operators money for those users who receive free travel.
Mr Wheatley, of Brylaine, which runs the town service and Spalding to Boston route, said: “Hopefully we will some sort of agreement there which will mean minimal disruption to services.
“But it is likely to mean slight curtailing of some services, such as the Saturday into town service and the Saturday service to Boston, which are likely to start later, finish earlier and be cut to hourly rather than half-hourly.”
LINCOLNSHIRE County Council had originally been looking at making £1.5million cuts to the bus subsidy.
Since then £500,000 has been put back into the budget, leaving cutbacks of £1million.
The Independents, the opposition party on the county council, have welcomed the extra money, but said a good bus service is vital for keeping rural area alive and thriving.
Coun Chris Brewis, deputy leader of the Lincolnshire Independents, said: “Originally the cuys from national government were going to be 80 per cent, which we fought hard and I am relieved we have been at least partly successful there.
“Rural buses are a lifeline for many communities and we would be very sorry indeed to see any of these withdrawn.”
But Chris Briggs, head of transportation at the council, said: “Whilst cutbacks are sadly unavoidable, Lincolnshire County Council knows how important bus services are to our residents, especially in rural areas.
“We are working very hard to retain as many as we can and striving to ensure they affect as few people as possible.
“This means focussing the main cuts of services which aren’t well-used or those running at off-peak times.
“However, we’ll try to protect buses on commuter routes where there is direct economic impact.”
He added that he hoped affected residents would make use of the county’s nationally-recognised on-demand CallConnect service, which runs six days a week.
The budget will be looked at by the county council tomorrow.