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Council admits losing money on Olympic bus scheme
DORSET County Council has admitted spending cash on an Olympic bus system that is now not fully operating.
The cash was spent on updating the First bus fleet in Weymouth but the company then switched most of its vehicles to Bristol.
A total of £5.05 million was secured from the Department of Transport to improve the local bus service infrastructure in Weymouth and Portland.
Of this, £3.7 million was invested in the RTPI system, but the majority of this money was spent on screens for 132 bus stops, electrical connections, and other costs related to this.
This situation was revealed at an audit and scrutiny meeting following a report by the director for environment Miles Butler.
He admitted that 'lessons had been learnt' and said discussions are still ongoing with First Buses to try and reach a resolution.
This specifically included the incorporation of Real Time Passenger Information (RTPI) both on screens in the buses and as part of bus stop infrastructure.
It was part of the overall £120million of infrastructure projects in the three years prior to the Olympics and Paralympics - including the Weymouth Relief Road.
However, after awarding First bus company £5million to improve their buses, the fleet was then moved to Bristol after the games had finished.
Hilary Cox, Dorset County Council Cabinet member for environment, said: "As part of the Weymouth Transport Project, the county council secured £5 million from the Department for Transport to invest in improving the local bus service infrastructure - including the introduction of a real-time passenger information (RTPI) system.
“A number of First buses were fitted with RTPI screens as part of this work.
"Unfortunately, the First bus company decided to take some of these vehicles out of Weymouth, which means the public are not getting the full benefits of the RTPI system.
“We are currently in talks with First to resolve this issue.
“The county council has invested a huge amount of resource to provide Weymouth and Portland with better bus shelters, bus stops and equipment, all with the aim of giving local residents and visitors much more efficient and user-friendly public transport.
“In order to complete the scheme, we need the full support of the bus companies to make this happen."
In the report by Mr Butler he said 'the knowledge and experience of RTPI systems with the county council rested with one person who had limited time to devote to the project'.
Therefore a sole trader was taken on as a consultant to handle the project.
He added that 'due to the compressed project timescale, the bus operator's agreement did not require any financial commitment to the day to day running of the scheme'.
The council states it is now working with the bus operator to renegotiate in order to reduce the burden to the county council.
A total of 67 First buses were initially fitted with RTPI equipment, at a cost of £296,000.
Dervla McKay, general manager for First Dorset, says, “First has invested, and continues to invest, a significant amount of resource into delivering the Real Time Passenger Information System with Dorset County Council.
“The vast majority of our buses in Dorset are fully fitted with appropriate equipment, and we are planning further fitments as new vehicles come into the fleet.
“However, in order to maximise the benefit of the RTPI scheme, other bus operator vehicles also need to be fitted with specialist equipment, to enable them to work the RTPI system, and enable real time information to be available to all passengers in the county.”
She added: “We continue to improve bus services in Dorset in partnership with Dorset County Council”
CHAIRMAN OF TRANSPORT GROUP 'FLABBERGASTED'
PETER Smith, chairman of West Dorset Western Area Transport Action Group (WATAG), said: “I'm totally flabbergasted.
“We knew right from the start that those buses were never going to stay around here and if we knew I don't know how Dorset County Council didn't know.
“It's news to me that anyone ever thought they were staying.
“Money came from everywhere for the Olympics and all sorts of things got paid for that we would never have got.
“It's just incredible if that money was used for buses that were never staying.”
PENSIONERS SPEAK OUT AGAINST CHANGING BUS ROUTES
PENSIONERS have spoken out over fears that planned changes to bus routes will leave them isolated in village communities.
It comes as a petition is launched against Dorset County Council's proposed changes to subsidised services, which could lead to some services being withdrawn altogether.
A consultation is taking place and people can give their views online or in writing.
Joyce Luker (corr), 66, of Crossways, said the reduced service would affect a lot of people.
“Crossways has a lot of pensioners, and a lot of young families who can't afford cars.
“We rely on the buses to get to town, go to the lovely markets in Dorchester, and the Saturday matinees at the cinema.
“Taking this service away will leave us isolated.”
The county council is proposing the changes in a bid to deliver better value for money, and rural services costing more than £5 per passenger will be withdrawn, as well as services carrying an average of less than seven passengers.
Pamela Edwards, 59, of Puncknowle, said: “You lose that bit of independence if you can't get into town on a Saturday for the market.
“A lot of my friends rely on it to go and do their shopping. I know you can order it online, but a lot of people don't have computers.”
She added: “It would be a really bad decision to cut this service.”
Spencer Flower, leader of Dorset County Council, said: “We are keen to understand the individual impacts that the changes will have.
“We can then look to helping with community initiatives in the highlighted areas that can provide residents with a better, tailored service that fits their needs.
“Many of the rural buses have very little usage and we have had to look at ways of providing a better value for money service by empowering local groups to work together.
“In all parts of Dorset there have been successes with neighbourcar and dial-a-car schemes that offer residents a bespoke service.”
Full details of the proposal can be found at www.dorsetforyou.com and bus users have until September 24 to give their views.
This can be done online, through town and parish councils, or by writing to Dorset Passenger Transport, Dorset County Council, County Hall, Dorchester, DT1 1XJ.
The final decision on the changes will be made at a Dorset County Council cabinet meeting on October 2.
GREEN PARTY CAMPAIGNS AGAINST CUTS
THE South and West Dorset Green Party are organising a campaign, including a petition, to speak out against the cuts to bus services.
The party says the proposals will have a 'detrimental' impact on those who most rely on public transport.
Green Party officer Jane Burnet said: “Good quality, regular and reliable public transport enables the elderly to maintain social contacts, the young to travel to school, work or job interviews, helps reduce the impact of climate change, has the potential to make roads safer if there are less cars about and ensures residents in more remote areas of our county do not feel socially or economically isolated.”
To sign the petition, visit www.westandsouthdorset.greenparty.org.uk