“TERRIBLE, disgusting and just plain wrong” – that’s how angry Hampshire bus passengers have described planned cuts in their service.
Those are the sentiments of workers, shoppers, pensioners and students, who consider the threatened First bus routes vital.
Their comments come after the Daily Echo exclusively revealed a major shake-up of 44 of the transport giant’s bus routes. This will come in two waves, with 20 changes in Gosport and Fareham coming in on January 17, and 24 alterations and cutbacks in Southampton hitting passengers on February 7.
School buses, vital hospital services and links to a neighbouring city are among those facing cutbacks.
Early morning and late evening number 4 services that link Shirley and Totton to Southampton General Hospital are to be withdrawn.
Also, the number 22 service funded by Southampton City Council, and soon to be taken over by Black Velvet, has been shortened and will no longer stop at the city’s hospitals.
Politicians have joined the row, and Southampton Itchen Labour MP John Denham said: “This would certainly seem to be very bad news for bus passengers.
“I would like to see more consultation before there are cuts to the services.
“It is vital that people are able to get to doctor’s appointments, the hospital and shops.”
First boss Richard Soper told the Daily Echo that the changes were all about matching services to demand and improving punctuality.
He added that while nobody liked making reductions, the firm would not be pulling services out of any parts of the city.
There are also changes planned for Bluestar services on February 21.
Bluestar operations manager Alex Hornby insists that these changes will be positive despite reducing services on Bluestar 3 and Nightstar 18.
He went on to say that the firm would be introducing extra buses and new modern vehicles to its fleet.
He said: “Demand for buses on Sundays continues to grow, so we will be doubling Sunday buses on Bluestar 9 between Southampton and the Waterside, increasing frequency from hourly to every 30 minutes during the daytime.
“Meanwhile, our Nightstar network of buses after midnight on Friday and Saturday nights continues to be a success, and we will introduce new Nightstar route N12, running every hour between Southampton, Totton and Calmore in response to customer suggestions.
“The big news from February is that we are again introducing more modern buses into our fleet.”
Black Velvet boss Phil Stockley also said that his family-owned company is expanding its services.
He said: “We are not having to make cutbacks, we are currently expanding our routes.
“However, we are not under the same pressures as First as many of our services are contracts and so subsidised, whereas the majority of their services are commercial.
“Also we are relatively new so all of the routes we have set up were done after concessionary passes were brought in for the over- 60s so we have never had to deal with the before and after effects.”
He went on to say that the firm was looking to buy two new buses and take on three new members of staff early this year.
Two of the services facing the axe are the 154 and 638 services that provide buses to Springhill, Thornhill and Brockenhurst Schools.
Trisha Phelan, Springhill School head teacher told the Daily Echo: “There is no need for concern over school buses as funding will last until the end of the school year.
“We are in constant contact with the bus companies to discuss what will happen when that runs out but no pupil will be left without transport to school.”