Loss-making park and ride services in Canterbury could soon become a thing of the past, says the city council’s leader.
New performance figures reveal the authority is haemorrhaging about £70,000 a month as passenger numbers continue to fall way short of pre-pandemic levels.
In November last year, the council entered into a seven-year deal with Stagecoach to provide park and ride services from the city’s three sites.
Yet Cllr Ben Fitter-Harding can foresee changes to the “flawed” system, which has been operating from New Dover Road, Wincheap and Sturry Road since 1990.
“I’m no fan of park and ride,” he admits.
“I think the model of driving to a car park to board another road vehicle that’s using the same road space is flawed, and the three locations in the city are too far out to be sustainable in terms of walking – yet too close to provide a real congestion benefit.
“Our park and ride buses spend far too much time stuck in traffic.”
Plans to extend the bus lane in Sturry Road – a project hoped to improve access for public transport – were shelved in 2018, leaving passengers often facing journey times of more than 20 minutes to travel just one-and-a-half miles.
The service was then dealt another, potentially catastrophic blow when the pandemic struck in March last year.
The month before, 30,447 vehicles had used a park and ride in the city. In September this year that number stood at 15,400, despite all lockdown restrictions having been lifted.
Cllr Fitter-Harding says that in the not-too-distant-future, the struggling service, which costs £4 a time, could “certainly be gone as it exists now and replaced with something much better”.
“My preferred model would be for people to arrive in the city and then be able to walk, cycle, e-scooter, or take a mode of public transport, probably a type of small bus to reach different areas,” he said.
“Holmans Meadow is a good example of a car park that provides that balance for people coming in down Old Dover Road.
“That could well be supplemented by some further-out park and ride services using dedicated bus lanes and, if bypasses are delivered, accessing a traffic-free ring road.”
Council officers say they are “unsurprised” demand has failed to bounce back after the pandemic as some users are still reluctant to use public transport and others have established different working/travel arrangements.
In a report on the service’s performance, head of transport Richard Moore said: “Usage has dropped by approximately 50% since the start of the pandemic and this is a cause for concern both from a transport policy perspective as well as a financial one to the council.”
A meeting of the authority’s regeneration committee on Thursday saw councillors discuss the future of park and ride.
It was agreed to permanently transfer the contracted Sunday service from Sturry Road to Wincheap from January.
With the boot fair at Wincheap now axed, the park and ride site will be used seven days a week.
Cars will still be able to park at the Sturry Road site for free on Sundays, but will have to take a Stagecoach service into the city.