The Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, Dr Nik Johnson, has offered £1.7 million of funding to rescue as many of the cancelled Stagecoach routes in Cambridgeshire as possible.

Stagecoach announced on Tuesday (September 20) that 18 of its services across the area are to be axed as a response to “post pandemic travel pattens”.

On September 21, the mayor instructed Combined Authority (CA) officers to stand an “urgent” process with bus operators with the aim of continuing the bus routes that are set to be cut from Stagecoach from October 30 until March 2023.

“In my time so far as mayor, no issue has evoked as strong a response as this announcement by Stagecoach,” said the mayor.

“My mailbox is full of emails from residents concerned about the loss of their service, from teachers who won’t be able to get to school to teach, and students who won’t be able to get to college.

“There’s also emails from older members of our society who will lose their only means of transportation out of their village to get to the shops or attend essential hospital appointments.”

The mayor added that the axed services will lead to more cars on our already overburdened roads, which goes against the need to cut carbon emissions across our districts.

“I maintain that this decision by Stagecoach, whilst they continue to receive government funding, is absolutely unacceptable, and the timing during a cost-of-living crisis could not be worse.”

Any decision to keep bus routes going will need to be put to the Combined Authority board for approval when it meets on October 19, meaning the process will take about three weeks to finish.

“It does unfortunately mean a short wait while the CA looks for bus operators for the routes, but we will be keeping the public updated as soon as we have information to share,” said the mayor.

In addition to the cancelled services, the CA are looking at sections of the route withdrawn on Citi5 beyond Northstowe and Citi8 beyond Cottenham, as well as a service for March town.

They mayor says the £1.7 million funding has come from saving arising due to the reduced amount of CA payments to operators caused by Covid-19 as well as a smaller amount from the bus recovery grant offered from the government to help keep some services going.

In the meantime, the mayor will be writing to the Government to reiterate the major changes facing the bus network and the need for more funding to keep services going.

He says while stepping in to support the bus services is necessary in the short term it is “clearly not sustainable” in the long term.

“There has already been a severe lack of national investment and vision for buses going back decades,” he said.

“Covid-19 has brought many of the issues around passenger numbers, especially in rural areas and in our market towns, to a head.

“Change and a new future for our whole bus system is needed.”

He added that the CA has been working on that new future through a dedicated bus strategy with the aim of providing high quality services for passengers, wherever they live and whatever their income.

The mayor said there are options for how we make the change needed, but that it must involve partnership working across the region, including with councils and the government.

“One way to deliver that new future could be to bring the bus network under local control, in a system called franchising,” he said.

“Franchised buses operate in London, and will soon start in Greater Manchester.

“The CA is looking at whether we can deliver a franchised system here, what the challenges are in a mainly rural area, and how it could be affordable and sustainable.

“It’s something the CA is continuing to review as part of work to improve bus services.”

The mayor said that the CA’s bus strategy also includes developing a new bus service improvement plan to make the case to government for more funding.

“Like 60% of other local authorities nationwide, we were disappointed that our previous bus service improvement plan was not supported by government funding, but we will be going back to make a renewed case,” he said.

The mayor believes that the future has to be better for public transport, not more cars and congestion.

“Buses are integral to a cleaner, healthier and lower carbon future for our region, and so our work to make services better is vital," he said.