At a time when bus services across the country are being drastically cut, an innovative partnership between the Isle of Wight Council and bus company Southern Vectis is set to secure services on the Island and save the council money.
Southern Vectis and council officers have been working on the partnership idea for around six months, and have now agreed terms for a new ‘single contract’ between the two organisations, securing bus services and delivering extra value in what would otherwise be very difficult times.
Underpinning the new contract, which is for an initial one year period, is an agreement on the level of payments to be made for concessionary travel, which delivers certainty for both organisations and provides enough stability to reach an agreement on a host of other services. The agreement also releases both from the ongoing costs, risks and distractions of the appeal process, and has led to Southern Vectis waiving all its outstanding appeals against a variety of schemes stretching back some years.
The other main elements of the new partnership are as follows:-
Southern Vectis will continue to operate all the non commercially viable Southern Vectis services that the council currently funds, but will do so for over £150,000 a year less than at present, operating journeys on some currently funded routes without any financial support.
In addition, the stability of the concessionary fares agreement has enabled the bus company to increase bus services from 17 April. It will double the frequency of its Route 7 to the West Wight to half hourly, extend Route 2 from Sandown through to Ryde, returning services to Oakfield, and introduce night buses to the West Wight and East Cowes on Friday and Saturday nights.
Southern Vectis will also take over the remaining Wightbus school operations that carry students to the Island’s two special needs schools, St George’s and Medina House, at a preferential rate.
In an innovative move, local communities will be able to partner with Southern Vectis and IW Council to run voluntary community bus routes to replace the current Wightbus local bus services. Since Southern Vectis floated the idea earlier this year, a significant number of local councils have come forward to deliver these schemes. The latest development builds upon that, with Southern Vectis providing vehicles and driver training, and the IW Council covering running costs removing any financial risk from the voluntary sector. The scheme is the first in the country, bringing together the resources and buses of a commercial bus operator with local community volunteer drivers to deliver services otherwise unviable to local communities.
Southern Vectis will also continue to provide all young people aged between 5 – 18 with half-price fares on all single, Rover and Freedom tickets (excluding Nightrider) on its public bus network during the contract.
Marc Morgan Huws, Divisional Director for Southern Vectis welcomed the partnership. “This agreement is incredibly important. We live in a time when we have to work together, to share resources, be super efficient, and to be innovative and imaginative. We have worked together for the past six months, pragmatically and positively discussing every aspect of our relationship.
“The result is an agreement that delivers the very best services as efficiently as possible for bus users on the Island.”
Cllr Edward Giles, IW Council cabinet member responsible for transport, said: “We have entered a new era in our relationship with the local bus company. Elsewhere across the country the outlook for rural bus networks are looking bleak, but here we have put together to deliver a range of initiatives and services which are sustainable for the future.
The new announcement comes after Southern Vectis agreed to provide visitor information centres across the Island following the closure of the Tourist Information Centres.
Cllr Giles added: “This new agreement is a very clear demonstration that when public and private sector organisations put their minds to it, they can work together to deliver a combination of innovative solutions at a lower cost. As everyone knows these are difficult economic times so we are particularly pleased to reach this deal that maintains and enhances bus services, helps protect jobs and, crucially, provides excellent value for money.”