Plea for Cambridgeshire Mayor to once again save Wisbech's Tesco bus
A much-loved community bus is once again facing the axe unless funding to keep it going can be found within the next week.
Route 68, or as it is affectionately known the Tesco bus, which is run by Fenland Association for Community Transport (FACT) could cease operating at the end of September without intervention - that's the dire warning given by Gary Christy, chair of FACT.
The bus has already won two reprieves thanks to Cambridgeshire's Combined Authority Mayor, with first former Mayor James Palmer offering six months of funding, and then current incumbent Dr Nik Johnson doing the same earlier this Year.
Now supporters hope Mayor Dr Johnson will once again step up and provide funding for what Gary described as a life-line for users.
The bus runs a circular route around Wisbech taking passengers out to the Cromwell Road retail park, a destination not easy to get to for those living the other side of town without a car.
Mayor Dr Johnson stepped in in March to provide six months of emergency funding following a public meeting and also after he took a ride on the bus to hear for himself why the service is so vital to users.
That money was given on the understanding that work would be done to try to increase passenger numbers in order to make the service more financially viable.
Gary said: "FACT along with Wisbech Town Council (mainly through the efforts of Councillor Sam Hoy), have actively been promoting and advertising the service at all opportunities.
"This was the commitment made to the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority on the remit of 'use it or lose it'.
"As a result passenger numbers have increased steadily and from what we understand the figures have far exceeded those that the national average is seeing.
"For the period ending June 17 there were 393 journeys and for the period ending July 15 the number of journeys was 473.
"But we are now at a major decision point, without further funding commitment for Route 68 on Tuesday August 2 FACT are obliged to inform local authorities that the service will cease at the end of September.
"Following the Local Authority Notice we then have to inform the Traffic Commission 30 days prior to the service ceasing, and the service stops completely.
"The service is increasing in patronage and we are seeing quite a few new faces using the service. The promotional activities have continued, and suggestions have been made on how potentially the service could be extended at minimal or no cost to serve a wider community if it is to continue, all of which FACT would be prepared to continue to provide on a Not-for-Profit Community Bus Route basis - commercial operators pulled out of running the service previously as they deemed it to be commercial unviable.
"From feedback it is clear that this service is a major lifeline for those that use it as there are no alternative services, many of whom do not have access to either a private car or are unable to afford taxi fares for essential shopping trips and other appointments."
The hope is that Mayor Dr Johnson will bring the funding issue up at Wednesday's (27) CPCA meeting.
But Cllr Hoy, who personally hand delivered Route 68 timetables to every home in her ward, which is covered by the service, at the end of May said so far he has been "reluctant" to commit to doing that.
She said: "We have done everything he asked us to do. We have promoted the service, and we have seen passenger numbers rise by around 100 - that should be enough for him to take this to Wednesday's meeting and give approval to further funding."
The Combined Authority has been approached for a comment.