Bus users in the villages concerned have been worried for several weeks about the withdrawal by Ipswich Buses Ltd. of their network of commercial rural bus services, which is due to take place on Monday 9 April 2001.
They will be relieved to hear that action by Suffolk County Council means the services will continue to run. Following a complex tendering exercise, five-year contracts have been awarded to Ipswich Buses Ltd. to provide six-days-a-week services along the Bildeston, Debenham and Otley corridors.
The frequency of services will be broadly similar to that currently provided, whilst their quality will be enhanced by the use of newer buses. Two of these will have a single step at the entrance and comply with the Government's accessibility regulations. The third bus will be wheel-chair accessible, with no entrance step. All three will be painted in a special county council livery.
Retention of these services represents increased expenditure of almost£100,000 a year. This is only possible by using a combination of funding sources, including the government's rural bus service grant.
Joan Girling, member of the county council's Executive Committee said: 'I am delighted that after many nail-biting weeks people living in these small towns and villages can now rely on their services not only to continue to run, but to do so in what we believe will be a more accessible, customer-friendly manner.
'I just hope that in future we can find a way of transferring unprofitable bus services from commercial to sponsored operation without causing such distress to local communities.'
Following further discussions with the successful tenderer, final timetables will be available within the next two weeks.
It has proved possible to retain the network of services with only minor changes and some improvements. The new services will be operated by Ipswich Buses Ltd. under contracts running for five years.
To demonstrate the new arrangement, the three buses proving most of the services will be painted in Suffolk CC's corporate blue. Two of these will be relatively modern buses with just one step, whilst one will be a wheelchair accessible low floor bus with no steps.
The county council was advised on 7 December 2000 of the expected withdrawal by Ipswich Buses Ltd. of their entire network of commercial rural bus services, effective from Monday 9 April 2001. Despite there being no unallocated budget, tenders were invited for replacement of the services.
Tendering was co-ordinated with that for home-school transport undertaken by the Education Department, and was for vehicles complying with the government's disabled persons transport advisory committee (DPTAC) accessibility requirements.
The council expects to spend£3.3m on public transport services in 2001/02, of which£1,582,000 will come from the government's rural bus service grant and rural bus challenge fund.