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Council faces legal challenge over bus cuts

A local authority cutting all council-funded bus services is facing legal action by one of its residents.

A local authority cutting all council-funded bus services is facing legal action by one of its residents. Jo Green is challenging Cambridgeshire County Council's decision to axe all council-funded buses over the next four years.

Jo said:

"I use the bus to take my son to his hospital appointments, to go to the cinema and to go to church. If I want to do these things now I'd have to get a taxi into town, which I can’t afford on a low income. There are also lots of elderly and disabled people who rely on the buses and in some rural areas of Cambridgeshire it means people will be totally isolated.

"What annoys me most is we weren't asked about these cuts or officially notified about them, they made the decision without us. I understand the council needs to save money, but they are there to provide a public service and any cuts should be done with care and thought and it seems to me they've done neither. That's why I decided to do something about it and not just for my family, but for all the other bus passengers who are going to be left stranded."

Cuts to local authority budgets have seen many councils target buses as a way to make savings, but Cambridgeshire is one of only three councils in England choosing to scrap all the services they fund. The move will mean a 20 per cent reduction in the county's bus routes and a loss of almost two million passenger journeys a year.

Councils have a legal duty to meet the transport needs of residents by providing socially necessary buses and to have “due regard" for the equality needs of protected groups. The council may also have acted unlawfully by failing to conduct an adequate public consultation prior to the decision being made as required by law.

Jo's challenge is aided by solicitors Leigh Day & Co, and backed by Cambridgeshire Against the Cuts and the Campaign for Better Transport, which earlier this year launched the Save Our Buses campaign.

Buses are by far the most used form of public transport. Without a basic service people who don’t drive are seriously disadvantaged and efforts to reduce transport carbon emissions are undermined. Many rural areas become inaccessible to those without cars.

Ultimately the responsibility lies with central government front-loading council spending cuts and giving councils little time to adjust. Council bus cuts are being made at a time where commercial bus services are also being hit by the cuts. A 20% cut to the fuel tax rebate for buses will come into force to 2012, and changes to the formula used by councils to calculate how much companies are reimbursed for carrying bus pass holders will mean another £100 million in funding being lost from the network.

Buses could be tipped into a spiral of decline from which they will struggle to recover.

Sophie Allain is Bus Campaigner at the sustainable transport charity, Campaign for Better Transport.

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