Stagecoach East has called for a rural connectivity summit to identify new transport solutions across Cambridgeshire.

The operator says the summit will bring new solutions to help protect the future of local communities.

It comes after Stagecoach announced on Tuesday (September 20) that 18 of its services across Cambridgeshire are to be axed as a response to “post pandemic travel patterns”.

Stagecoach has said that services where passenger use and funding is failing to meet operational costs will end to protect the long-term viability of the network.

Since the news surfaced, several residents and regular commuters who use the affected services have signed a petition against the cancellations.

The operator has said the summit would bring together elected councillors and transport officials at CAPCA and other local authority representatives across Cambridgeshire, as well as local bus operators, transport users and business groups.

Managing director at Stagecoach East, Darren Roe, said: “We care about our local communities, and we know how important public transport is to local people.

“That is why we have pumped millions of pounds of company money into services in Cambridgeshire trying to keep these bus links alive, as well as increasing services in areas where people are travelling more.”

Mr Roe said the “harsh reality” is that in many rural areas, the gap between costs and fare income is accelerating.

He said the routes have been on “life support” for many years and the operator now needs a “radical review of how the transport and authority operators work together to keep these communities alive and connected”.

Journeys in some of the affected areas are losing on average £12 per passenger, with some routes costing as much as £85 per passenger journey.

In addition, Stagecoach fuel costs are set to rise by 20% and utility costs by more than 80% in the months ahead.

Stagecoach East has held meetings with the Combined Authority to discuss the reality of the financial situation over several months.

Since May, it has urged for a more fundamental review involving local bus operators and user groups.

Mr Roe said: “It’s clear the traditional field fixed route bus service is no longer a financially viable solution in these rural areas in parts of Cambridgeshire.

“Not only is it becoming unviable, but it also threatens the long-term sustainability of the wider bus network and the investment we’re making in new electric buses.”

He said Stagecoach “cannot turn back the clock” and instead “need to focus on our collective energy on developing alternative solutions to meet the new reality”.

He added “it is inevitable that these will need to be underpinned by public funding support”.

As well as discussions with councils, Mr Roe also met with the Cambridge and Bedford Area Bus User groups this week to discuss the situation and listen to people's views.

“There needs to be an open and honest conversation around what is the most appropriate way to ensure that communities in more rural areas remain connected,” said Mr Roe.

“We are fully committed to playing our part in those discussions.”

The new Stagecoach network comes into effect on October 30.