326 bus route in firing line


Rye’s fight against proposed cuts in the funding of local bus services by the county council is likely to focus on Tilling Green’s 326 route. And what will be cut, how, and why is likely to be challenged by Rye Community Transport (RCT) and the town council.

Route 326 is just one that is under threat, but how much it will be cut is open to question. There are hourly services Monday to Friday between Rye Town and Tilling Green, though some are provided by the 342. However, some services (326 and 342) also carry on to Broad Oak from Rye, while a few 326 services also go up to Rye Memorial Hospital before circling back through Houghton Green to the Military Road and Kings Avenue.

Other buses , the 312 and 344, also go past the hospital from the town centre, but they too might face cuts.

The county proposes to cut financial support for hourly services to every two hours, and for less than hourly services to two days a week. Funding for some dial-a-ride services will also be cut, along with support for some 13 evening and Sunday services.

The town council’s Public Services Committee was asked on Monday July 7 to support RCT. It was urged to question what cuts might be made to the 326 service, and to find alternative funding to replace support withdrawn by the county.

Pat Hughes from RCT told the meeting that the town council had been very supportive and had helped to cover changes in bus pass use (from 9 to 9.30 start) and bus replacements. However, she said, there was a need to look at long-term funding and the council should consider including public services within its precept.

She also pointed out that RCT had no control over when and where people needed to go for medical appointments, and bus services and dial-a-ride needed to be available when people had to travel.

She said the 344 and 312 routes could be affected by cuts, but the 100 should not be as it did not receive any financial support. However, RCT thought the 326 was being put in the wrong category for cuts, and would be trying to respond to the consultation in a constructive way. “It is essential,” she said, “that the 326 continues to operate. It is used a lot to get people up to the hospital.”

Age UK has said rural bus cuts are having a damaging effect on elderly people, isolating them and cutting them off from essential services such as hospitals. “Many of the people I represent are elderly and/or are not car users,” Sam Souster, Rye’s rural district councillor, commented last week. “And they totally rely on the bus service to shop, go to the doctor or hospital.”

In country areas many face growing isolation with long walks to the nearest bus stop, and Gillian Merron of Age UK said: “It undermines the whole idea of providing free bus travel when there’s no bus to travel on.”

The Local Government Association recently said that government funding for free off-peak travel for the elderly and disabled had dropped by 39 per cent; and a recent Labour Party survey said funding had dropped by more than 25 per cent since the last General Election. A government spokesman said in April that the Government provided funding to meet the cost of subsidising off-peak travel, but did not give any details on how much.

East Sussex, which has begun consulting on bus service funding,  is expected to decide on what and where any cuts will be towards the end of September.