Can bus route rethink solve South Marston travel dilemma?

  • Beren Cross published 16th June 2015

AN existing Swindon bus route may provide the solution to South Marston’s public transport dilemma after its only service was axed.

Parish council chairman Colin McEwen has called on Stagecoach to divert its number seven bus through South Marston after the bus operator withdrew its number 65 when Oxfordshire County Council, then Swindon Borough Council stopped subsidising it.

Councillors will discuss a proposal to provide a £1,500 a year three-times-a-week shopping service for the village at a Swindon Council cabinet meeting on Wednesday night.
But Colin said: “I personally have got no interest in a subsidised service which is no use to anyone. I don’t believe a three-times-a-week shopping service as being a viable long-term facility because it doesn’t serve a lot of needs. For that it has to be daily and regular. This doesn’t provide a service to Highworth or GPs’ surgeries.

The number seven currently runs to South Marston Industrial Estate, but would require a diversion to serve the village and Colin wants one of the service’s five-an-hour options to provide a vital link to both Swindon and Highworth.

If that happened once or twice an hour, that would provide an excellent service for the village,” he said. “You wouldn’t have to jiggle the timetable and it would provide extra traffic from South Marston to Sainsbury’s rather than being a total waste of time. I can’t believe all the buses on a five-an-hour service going through South Marston Industrial Park are going to be full. It seems that this alternative would be a real bus service available at no extra cost.”

Coun Dale Heenan (Con, Covingham & Dorcan), Swindon Council cabinet member for transport, said: “Any changes to Stagecoach number seven is a commercial decision for the company and I am happy to support South Marston Parish Council in their aim to secure a diversion. Stagecoach report between two and six people use the service 65 each day so a diversion for the service seven is unlikely. But there is no magic money tree, and residents need to remember that they are still paying the full fare on a council-subsidised route. I do feel for the residents, but officers tell me there is no affordable alternative to Dial A Ride’s proposal. Once Oxfordshire Council removed its subsidy for the service 65, there is no possible way Swindon Borough Council could justify spending tens of thousands on such low passenger numbers. South Marston Parish Council has written to say the Dial a Ride proposal is unacceptable and urges cabinet not to agree it, which we may well agree too.”

Stagecoach’ s managing director Rupert Cox said: We have seen suggestions regarding adjusting service seven to divert certain journeys via South Marston village. This is not practical. Service seven is a popular route with most journeys stopping at every stop along the route. If some journeys were diverted via Sainsbury’s and South Marston village we would miss stops in Grange Drive and Stratton. We run up to every 10 minutes through these areas as the buses are very busy. The actual scenario is that service seven is being used by more and more people, hence the frequency increase between South Marston Industrial Estate and Highworth, which we have recently introduced. Aside from some evening journeys, we run service seven without subsidy. Service 66 operates entirely on a commercial basis. This means that we need to manage the service to ensure that revenue received from customers exceeds the actual cost of operation. We have invested in both routes to make improvements and continue to see more and more people using the routes. Sadly, there are simply too few people who wish to use buses from South Marston village on a commercial basis, or indeed a conventional subsidised service.

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