COUNTY chiefs are set to spend £3.5m on a hi-tech bus information system – even though routes have been slashed.
The county council plans to invest in a new “real time” system designed to give passengers up-tothe minute information on bus arrivals via satellite. But many bus users are furious that vital routes in their communities are being cut.
The council already has a system in Winchester city, Basingstoke centre, Gosport and Fareham but wants to extend it for a further four years after the current contract ends in 2013.
Bus stops are fitted with electronic notice boards showing how many minutes to the next bus. The information is also available via the Internet, mobile phone app and text messaging.
A further £698,000 is to be spent by the county on “Oyster” style smart tickets for bus and ferry travel in south Hampshire.
The plans come after the council made a £2.2m cut in a subsidy to bus companies last year to operate unprofitable routes in rural areas, weekends and evenings as part of its two-year £100m savings drive.
On top of this, the Government rural bus subsidy was reduced by £544,000. As a result about 100 routes have been slashed.
Some services were reduced from six-days-a-week to five, three or even two in some areas and some villages lost Sunday and evening buses.
An estimated £4.5m will be spent on the real time bus information system over four years, including in Southampton and Portsmouth city council areas. The county council has agreed to pay £3.5m.
About £1.5m will come from the Department for Transport. Companies will be asked to bid for the contract.
A spokesman for Bus Users UK (Hampshire) said: “There is Government funding from one pot of money to improve public transport while at the same time local authority rural bus subsidies have been cut, so people are cut-off from the network they want to use.”
Councillor Keith House , leader of the opposition Liberal Democrat group on the council said his party opposed the bus cuts.
But he added: “We support this one-off funding to get more realtime information out to passengers.
It should increase the take-up of commercial services and the remaining buses the county have not cut.”
Environment and transport chief Councillor Mel Kendal said the £3.5m included Government cash to make bus travel more attractive and developers’ contributions to improve transport infrastructure.
The Tory council chief said “The majority of this money is Government specified funding which cannot be spent on other items such as bus subsidies.”
He said the council was still spending almost £6m a year subsidising loss-making routes.