Thank you for your petition seeking the introduction of a (direct) bus service between Fleet and Frimley Park Hospital. I see that you have also provided a copy of the petition to the local bus operator, Stagecoach. I am please to see this as most bus services, accounting for around six of seven passenger journeys in Hampshire, are provided commercially by bus operators paid for by the fares collected. Hampshire County Council only steps in to subsidise bus services when there are insufficient passengers to make them sustainable. In the Fleet area, this amounts to some £1million over four years.
I am surprised to read your comments that you 'have seen little co-operative working' between the County Council and the bus company and that 'little has changed to improve the situation for hospital users in the past 18 months'. My understanding is that you were party to a series of meetings including Cllr Sharyn Wheale, community representatives and council and bus company officers throughout the early park of 2015 which resulted in the design of a new bus network which commenced operation from September 2015 following a well-attended public meeting where the options were presented and valuable feedback gained.
The new network included the introduction of the County Council supported number 7 which runs hourly and reinstate a much requested link from Fleet to Aldershot bus station. Those wishing to attend Frimley Park Hospital can change at the bus station to service 3 which runs every 30 minutes to the hospital.
In addition, as park to the new network from last September, the number 10 from Fleet to Farnborough has increased to every 30 minutes and provides journey over a longer day. This allows connection with the number 2 service at Kingsmead in Farnborough, also every 30 minutes, to Frimley Park Hospital. Both the 10 and the 2 routes are operated commercially by Stagecoach and allow travel from Fleet to Frimley Park Hospital, with one change of bus. Department for Transport accessibility criteria recognise that it is not possible to provide a direct bus service from everywhere to everywhere and allow for one change of bus to complete a journey.
In addition to bus services, Hampshire County Council supports the Fleet Link service which offers a local door to door service, whilst the Good Neighbour Support service has a network of volunteer drivers who help with the hospital visits for those unable to use public transport. The Passenger Transport Group offers support and resources to help recruit and train volunteer drivers.
With continued reductions in Government funding, we are in a position where we must prioritise the resources we have where they are going to have the most benefit. I understand that the previous through bus between Fleet and Frimley Park Hospital, that the County Council subsidised until 2014, cost £100,000 per year with an average of only two passengers per journey to the hospital and was simply no longer affordable when there are other public and community transport options available.
We are due to review the subsidised bus service arrangements in the Black Water Valley in September, including routes serving the Fleet area. It will be important to try to maintain existing patterns of service if we can, but we need to live within our means, and ensure that the reduced funding available for subsidising routes across the County is carefully and effectively targeted on services which provide vital links for residents for which no alternative provision exists.
Thank you for the opportunity to respond to the petition, and to set out the services available and support provided by the County Council.
Cllr Rob Humby
Executive Member for Environment and Transport