19.1 Steve Wickers, Managing Director of First Eastern Counties Buses Ltd explained that the Park and Ride Service continued to perform well, although passenger numbers were static. Key points made by Mr Wickers were:
- Traffic congestion delayed buses and made them a less attractive travel option, although punctuality was only marginally lower than the previous year at 91%;
- Increased parking provision in the Town Centre made the service less attractive;
- The number of Suffolk County Council employees using the service had dropped but the number of Ipswich Borough Council employees using it had risen;
- Mobile ticketing had been introduced and cheaper tickets were now available electronically;
- Various promotions and advertising campaigns continued, with late night Christmas shopping buses operating on Thursdays and cheaper fares in the afternoon and on Saturdays;
- The extension to Rendlesham had been discontinued to improve reliability, whilst the evening services to London Road had been withdrawn as they were poorly used.
- First Eastern Counties Ltd were working with Suffolk One to provide off peak services to the college with good value pricing.
19.2 Councillor Harsant asked where the key areas of congestion were which affected the Park and Ride service. Mr Wickers explained that these were St Helens Street to Major’s Corner, the area around the Crown Court and the approaches to the Buttermarket Car Park in the run up to Christmas. Suffolk County Councillor West noted that Highways had carried out schemes to alleviate congestion on the Park and Ride route including at Beech Road, and West End Road.
19.3 Councillor Gage asked whether the income from the Suffolk County Council car park on Constantine Road was still used to subsidise staff park and ride fares. Suffolk County Councillor West confirmed that this money remained available. Mr Wickers noted that whilst the total number had fallen, there were still large numbers of Suffolk County Council staff using the Park and Ride Service.
19.4 Councillor Gage asked when timetables would be placed in bus stops by First Eastern Counties following the transfer of responsibility from Suffolk County Council to bus operators. Mr Wickers confirmed that these would be put into place in the next few weeks.
19.5 Councillor T Lockington asked whether consideration was being given to reducing the availability of free on-street parking in streets such as Constitution Hill. Suffolk County Councillor West explained that residents parking schemes needed to have support from residents as they caused disruption, especially to visitors and commented that he would prefer to make using bus services more attractive.
19.6 Councillor Allen noted that Police were used to manage congestion caused by Christmas parking at the Buttermarket and asked whether First Eastern Counties Ltd contributed to the cost of this. Mr Wickers confirmed that First Eastern Counties Ltd, Suffolk County Council and Ipswich Borough Council all contributed to traffic management efforts in relation to the Buttermarket car park.
19.7 Councillor Allen asked whether First Eastern Counties Ltd still intended to offer reduced fares to Ipswich Hospital staff. Mr Wickers explained that talks were still ongoing but that the hospital management had been focussed on its merger with the Colchester Hospital and so progress had been slower than he had hoped.
19.8 Councillor Pope asked whether the service remained financially sustainable. Mr Wickers confirmed that the Park and Ride service was sustainable.
19.9 Councillor Harsant asked who was responsible for the screens at bus stops which displayed information on the next services. Suffolk County Councillor West explained that the signs were provided by Suffolk County Council and that real time information was provided by operators.
19.10 Councillor Harsant asked whether the subsidised number 4 buses which operated on Sundays were sustainable. Mr Wickers confirmed that with the subsidy these services were financially sustainable.
19.11 Councillor Harsant thanked First Eastern Counties Ltd and Suffolk County Council for attending the meeting and their helpful contributions to the discussion.