Rising operating costs could hit bus fares and services

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BUS companies fear they will be forced to scrap services and raise fares due to funding cuts and spiralling costs.

Higher than ever petrol prices and hikes in fees for using local bus stations are among the major issues facing rural providers in the coming year.

And bosses fear passengers will be the ones to bear the brunt.

Delaine Buses, based in Bourne, says fees for using Bourne bus station have risen from 20p per departure in 2008 to 60p in 2010, while bus companies using Spalding station have refused to pay a bill which sees a 157 per cent increase in fees backdated to last April.

As Delaine’s has an average of 11,300 departures a year from Bourne bus station, its bill has risen from £2,260 to £6,780 in the space of two years.

Director Mark Delaine-Smith said: “This is an annoying cost because the bus station is just a slab of concrete and we are paying just for the privilege of picking people up there.

“That and rising fuel costs all add up and its just another niggle in the side where we have increases and we are not getting anything else for it.

“We have already had to cut one weekend evening service from Bourne to Peterborough and we will have to continue to look at other ways of saving money.

“It looks as though we will receive 44 per cent of the cost for each concessionary passenger we carry, which might mean we will have to put fares up to cover it.”

Mr Delaine-Smith said the company had not increased fares to cover fuel costs as when petrol prices go up more people shun the car in favour of buses and increased passenger numbers helps cover fuel bills. But he fears fuel costs could affect services and fares in the future as the fuel rebate bus companies receive from April 2012 is due to be cut by 20 per cent.

He said: “At the moment the price a litre is £1,10. With the fuel rebate that brings it down to about 67p, but going back just a few months that figure started with a four.”

Malcolm Wheatley, of Brylaine Travel, says the rural nature of the area its buses serve is one of the major factors it faces with regards to fuel increases.

He said: “In big towns or cities the average length of a journey is about half a mile. Here it’s about 5.6 miles. Because we travel a long way with a few passengers the cost of fuel is a big concern.

“They seem to use any excuse to put the cost of fuel up and this will have quite a serious effect on our services.

“At the moment we are looking at systems and vehicles that will be more fuel efficient in the hope that we can maintain the network.”

But Mr Wheatley said a recent meeting with Lincolnshire County Council to set the level of reimbursment for carrying passengers with bus passes had been positive.

He said: “We are having one more meeting to dot the is and cross the ts but hopefully it will not have a great affect on services.

“Obviously the thing that will have an affect if anything is going to is if there is a cutback in revenue support from the county council.”