Thank you for your letter of 26 February 2013 and attached petition regarding the use of double deck buses along Ashdene Road and New Road, Ashurst on the Bluestar 6 service.
I am pleased to read in your letter, and in comments made by a number of the other writers, the importance attached to the bus service and in responding to the points raised it would be useful if I set out the background to the recent changes.
Bluestar 6, formerly the Wilts & Dorset 56/56A, is a long established service between Lymington and Southampton serving Ashurst, Brockenhurst, Lyndhurst and Rushington and is the only public transport link for a number of the communities en route. The 56/56A increased from hourly to half hourly in 1998 due to Government funding through the Rural Bus Subsidy Grant. In Ashurst, one bus an hour ran via the main Lyndhurst Road and the other via Ashdene Road and New Road. The figures that I have show that just under half the journeys along Ashdene Road and New Road used double deck buses.
In February 2011, the bus company re-branded the route as Bluestar 6 and routed all journeys along Ashdene Road and New Road. This resulted in a 30 minute service in each direction. The new timetable also meant that buses started to meet on that section of route for the first time leading to some of the incidents mentioned by those responding to the petition. In October 2011, a significant reduction in Rural Bus Subsidy Grant meant that Bluestar 6 reduced to hourly. All journeys continued to run via Ashdene Road and New Road and the schedule still resulted in buses passing on that section of route. In November 2012 the timetable was changed again so that buses were scheduled to pass at Knellers Lane. The passing point will vary if either of the buses is running late but buses are no longer scheduled to pass in Ashdene Road or New Road.
The reduction in frequency to hourly in October 2011 meant that there were capacity problems on some journeys when smaller vehicles were used with some passengers being unable to travel. As mentioned earlier, the Bluestar 6 is the only public transport link for many of the communities served and the County Council has pushed the company hard to use double deck buses on most journeys so that those along the route are able to travel when they need to. The round trip time from Lymington to Southampton and back to Lymington is two and a half hours which means that during the day almost all journeys are busy at some point on their journey. For this reason, greater use of single deck buses would bring back the likelihood of passengers being unable to travel or unable to travel in comfort.
With regard to the speed that buses travel, Hampshire County Council is carrying out a pilot scheme of ten 20mph speed limits in residential locations across the county using signs alone as opposed to the use of traffic calming measures. The scheme in the New Forest is in Hythe and with the others will be monitored to see how well it is received by the local community. Bluestar 6 is now being run again by Wilts & Dorset and officers have made its Operations Manager fully aware of local concerns. As a result he has instructed drivers to observe a voluntary 20mph speed limit in Ashdene Road and New Road.
As to the matter of road condition and damage as shown in the photographs you attached, I have arranged for our Highways Unit to inspect the roads in question as a matter of priority. As your writers say, a defect in the carriageway will make the passage of a bus more noticeable.
Thank you for the opportunity to respond to the points raised. The many operator-led timetable changes in the last two years and the operation of a timetable until last November which resulting in buses passing each other in Ashdene Road or New Road has had an obvious impact on local residents. The new schedule should minimise this. The inspection of the road condition will take place as a matter of priority. The reduction in the frequency of the Bluestar 6, following a cut in Government funding, means that individual journeys are now busier than they were before while the length of the route means that double deck buses are now required to avoid passengers being left behind at some point on the journey even if buses do not appear busy elsewhere on the route.
Councillor Melville Kendal
Executive Member for Environment and Transport