County council scraps free park and ride

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Essex County Council has dismissed concerns that hundreds of pensioners  could stop using park and ride services after it agreed to scrap free travel and bring in a flat fee of £1.50.

Of the 1,494 people who responded to an earlier council consultation, 26 per cent of people agreed with the proposal, because they felt it was fairer for everyone that all users should contribute to the service and they felt if they could run a car they should contribute.

However, 74 per cent of people disagreed with the proposal because they felt older people should receive taxpayer funded transport.

They also said the free service supports independent living and prevents isolation, or older people use it to access healthcare.

In total 65 per cent of respondents said they would stop using the service altogether if the £1.50 was introduced and 34 per cent said they would continue and one per cent did not reply to this question.

The results have sparked concern that the proposals may backfire and lead to even more cars on the road.

Despite the results of the consultation, the council believes that at least 75 per cent of users will continue to use the park and ride service, which Lib Dem leader Mike Mackrory said he found “somewhat overoptimistic”.

Ray Gooding, county councillor responsible for passenger transport, said: “We do need to make some changes. Currently the park and ride service is unsustainable.”

Referring to the discrepancy between the survey results and the council’s predictions, he added: “I would personally view that as an underestimate of the continued use – partly because it is still exceptional value for money.

“To come into the centre of Chelmsford and Colchester for £1.50 is still significantly better than driving in and parking for perhaps five times that.

“My view is that this will be used in exactly the way we have anticipated.”

Cabinet member in charge of park and ride services, Councillor Kevin Bentley, has pledged to devolve park and ride services to district and city councils to better align the services with street and car parking services those council are responsible for.

He added: “This is about fairness and equality of who is paying for what.

“I think it is a ludicrous situation that Essex County Council runs park and ride and district and borough run parking.

“That is nonsense and we need to make sure that comes together.

“It is absolutely my ambition to devolve park and ride to district, city and borough councils.

“Last week we had a conversation with Chelmsford over just that.”

Chelmsford’s services collectively in Sandon and Chelmer Valley made a loss of £23,739 in the last financial year.

At the same time Colchester has seen just 251,000 passenger journeys, while Sandon saw 845,000 and Chelmer Valley 429,000.

Cllr Bentley added: “If we are serious about climate change then we have to make some serious choices and decisions.

“I have always maintained people will not get out of their cars unless there is a better, cheaper alternative.

“And therefore we have to spend taxpayers’ money in alternative transport that is cheap.

“It is true if you go to park and ride it is cheaper than parking in a car park – unless you are a large family.

“It is also true if you hold a bus pass you are getting a free bus ride.

“This is a contribution to running the park and ride.

“This is about fairness, this is saying that we all need to make a contribution.”

Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter

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