Earlier this year, Stagecoach relaunched the Humber Flyer bus service between Hull, Humberside Airport, Grimsby and Cleethorpes. The New Waltham extension was dropped, a new route introduced between Grimsby and Cleethorpes, Volvo B10B's cascaded onto the service and a 'technical' break in the route introduced at Humberside Airport. Overall it seemed like a good set of changes, and from my observations of the Humber Flyer in Hull generally it gets good loadings.
Now though this politically sensitive route is under threat. Since Stagecoach originally planned to axe it in 2005/6, the service has been operated with financial support from North East Lincolnshire Council (£10,000 per year), North Lincolnshire Council, Humberside Airport and Hull City Council. However for 2009/10 no funding has been provided by the 4 partners.
Without this funding, Stagecoach is threatening to withdraw the service blaming high mileage and high bridge tolls. Despite 35% toll reductions it still pays £47,800 a year in tolls to the bridge board.
The Humber Flyer provides the only direct bus service between North East Lincolnshire and Hull. providing access to the Hull Royal Infirmary as well as Hull City Centre. Should the Humber Flyer be withdrawn, passengers will need to catch a bus or train to Barton, and change onto the other bus service over the Humber Bridge, the 350 Humber Fastcat service. In complete contrast to the Humber Flyer, this service saw a frequency increase and relaunch earlier this year.
The link to Hull Royal Infirmary is particularly sensitive with the transfer of many NHS services from the south bank to Hull, and the need for car travellers to pay bridge tolls to access them. For some at least, the bus is cheaper than the fuel, bridge toll and car parking costs of driving.
The Humber Flyer is also the only bus service to Humberside Airport, Great Limber and Keelby. Great Limber and Keelby do have access to Call Connect Plus and RuralLinc demand responsive services, but surely Keelby at least deserves a 'fixed' service into Grimsby. As for the airport, it would be very poor not to have any bus service calling at it.
Hopefully a solution will be found, almost certainly involving the 4 funding partners providing their share of the funding for 2009/10. Maybe Stagecoach could find ways to reduce the cost of the service, though their comments about high mileage do make sense. Between Laceby and Hull, the service only passes through three villages (Keelby, Great Limber and Melton Ross) plus Humberside Airport. For a large part of the route the dual carriageway A15 is used. This means there is very little opportunity to pick up passengers, and certainly doesn't help make 'the books balance'.
And this threat by Stagecoach also links into the bridge toll debate. There maybe a 25% reduction for buses, but if tolls were reduced to a nominal charge (£1 for cars), bus tolls would similarly reduce to a nominal level, a far bigger reduction than the current 35% discount. But should buses, as public transport, pay at all for bridge use?
This service is too important to loose. A solution needs to be found, and quickly.
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