Council vows to review bus timetables in Saffron Walden after services are branded ‘near-useless’

PUBLISHED: 08:33 01 June 2018 | UPDATED: 08:33 01 June 2018

Bus route 301 to Bishop's Stortford.

Bus route 301 to Bishop's Stortford.

Archant

A group of volunteers who carried out a survey of public buses serving Saffron Walden town centre said it is “impossible to link a bus with a train at Audley End” during the day and taxpayers are currently paying for “a near-useless service”.

On May 22, a group of 14 volunteers surveyed the usage and number of passengers on the public buses between 5.30am and 9.40pm and talked to more than 350 people boarding the buses in the High Street and noted their comments to inform the Saffron Walden Neighbourhood Plan group.

The routes in question, 301, 59 and 60, aim to provide a half-hourly service through the main part of the day, timed to link with trains to and from London.

However, the group found that all three routes ran a minute or two apart so there was not a half-hourly service but two buses at the same time and then almost an hour to wait for the next, finding that it was “impossible” to link the bus with a train from Audley End.

David Corke, the Walden bus survey organiser, said: “During the daytime, when Stephensons and Essex County Council (ECC) provide the buses, it is impossible to link bus with train at Audley End. In the morning and evening rush hours, when the unsubsidised service 590 buses are run by Viceroy, there is no problem.

“Stephensons buses all claim to be run by the best independent bus operator in Britain but they don’t seem to be very good for Walden’s travellers. Presumably it is ECC that forces them to use this ridiculous timetable.

“To make matters worse the timetable information on the bus stops is a mess. When the lady employed by ECC to design and place the timetables was taken by the ECC Saffron Walden bus consultation group to see the situation she was unable in three attempts to get the right time for the next bus. Improvements were promised. They have not materialised.

“If this sort of absurdity is cured it should be possible to substantially increase the number of adult, fare-paying, car owners who choose to use buses to the station. This will take cars off the street and reduce the subsidies that Essex tax payers currently pay for a near-useless service. Service 301 costs the ratepayers £891 a day, plus 59 and 60 at £598 a day.”

A spokesman for ECC said: “We welcome the survey undertaken by the community group. We always look to work in partnership with stakeholders to identify opportunities for improving services to the community.

“Bus timetables are built around a number of factors, including school transport, train times and connecting with other bus services in key termini so that the majority of passengers can benefit. This often means they involve some degree of compromise so that they are serving as many in the community as possible.

“ECC recently consulted on changes to the timetable on service 59/60 (Haverhill to Saffron Walden) to coincide with the train times at Audley End Station. The results of this consultation are currently being assessed.

“Service 301 operates between Bishop’s Stortford and Audley End station and serves two schools (Newport Free Grammar and Saffron Walden County High) as well as Audley End station. ECC has previously investigated requests for this service to meet train times at Audley End station, however, as the timetable was already running to a tight schedule it was not possible to consider this change.

“It is worth noting that although these services (59/60/301) operate between Saffron Walden and Audley End station they serve different settlements within the Uttlesford district.

“The contracts for service 59/60 and 301 are not due to expire until July 2020, and we currently plan to review the routes and timetables next year. There will be a full consultation process so that services can be designed to meet as many passenger demands as possible, within the funding available.”

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