Future of community bus service up in the air

Steve Hurst, of Spirit Buses in Rothbury.
Steve Hurst, of Spirit Buses in Rothbury.

The future of a locally-owned and managed bus service in north Northumberland is once again uncertain.

Steve Hurst, the director of Rothbury-based Spirit Buses, released a lengthy statement yesterday, updating passengers on the current situation faced by his community bus service and reassuring them that a number of options are being explored.

It says: ‘Looking past November 5, we have a number of options. We are tirelessly exploring to find the best result for the communities we serve. We are in discussions with Northumberland County Council and other bus operators to ensure continuation of these lifeline services into the future.’

The company, which provides services connecting the villages of Upper Coquetdale and Alnwick, was in a similar situation with concerns over viability after its first year of operation, around this time in 2015, before support from Northumberland County Council enabled a last-gasp reprieve.

Reflecting on the services they provide, Steve explains that initially Spirit Buses ‘saw great success with our Alnmouth Station bus meets train service and working alongside Travelsure to provide a variation to the Alnwick town service – however, the extension of the X20 to serve Alnmouth and rerouting of the X15 through Alnwick by Arriva North East saw our figures drop, impacting our financial viability to support the more rural services.’

He continues: ‘Likewise, we heavily rely on inward connections at Rothbury from Newcastle and Morpeth via Arriva’s X14.

‘In September, Northumberland County Council re-awarded Arriva the contract to run this service again as they have for the past number of years. Unfortunately, Arriva’s reduced timetable does not fit around any of our existing connections and we are unable to create a viable alternate timetable without disrupting (our) connections, fitting consulted passengers’ needs or running in daylight hours to ensure reliability in winter.

‘This will cause serious damage to our income and also disruption to residents and businesses in Upper Coquetdale: There will be no viable link up for ‘southbound’ passengers traveling from Coquetdale to Morpeth for the day; There will be no connections from Newcastle and Morpeth to Rothbury, a major source of our route 16 revenue; Passengers will no longer be able to make straightforward transfers to Cragside entrance and Alnwick.’

Steve adds that Spirit Buses did submit a tender to run the Rothbury to Morpeth service which included guaranteed through connections to Newcastle as well as with its own current services to Coquetdale. However, this bid was unsuccessful as ‘the Arriva tender provided more value for money to Northumberland County Council and the community than we could’.

The statement underlines that there will be no changes to Spirit Buses’ services until November 5, but there will be no connections with Arriva’s X14 service in Rothbury after its timetable change on Sunday, September 25.

To read the update in full, visit www.spiritbuses.co.uk/news.html