At an emergency meeting on Thursday 10th December Conservatives on Wokingham Borough Council agreed a £100,000 subsidy for the public transport company.
Reading East MP Rob Wilson organised a public meeting at Bulmershe Youth Centre on 11th December which was advertised as an opportunity to discuss proposed changes, but it seems primarily to have served the purpose of informing the 100 members of the public who attended, suggesting the deal had been cooked up in secret without the input of the the people who to all intents and purposes were being consulted.
Reading Buses recently overhauled the executive structure of the company and Chief Executive James Freeman was thanked by Mr Wilson, who said: "Thanks to their efforts, and others behind the scenes, I think that this is a good if not perfect result" which "[made] sure that this issue was resolved as quickly as possible."
Meanwhile Earley Town Council has also intervened to write to Reading Borough Council in which they 'express concern' at the potential loss of a link to the district centre while insisting that certain standards of frequency are retained.
The row boils down to proposals to tweak bus routes and timetables which would enable the 62 line to be scrapped as it is replaced by the 19 and 22 routes, however concerns are rife that this could prove counterproductive as more bus travellers may be put off by constant chopping and changing at a time when Reading Transport can't afford to lose any more passengers.
But underlying the service issues are deeper questions about the continuing public ownership of the company and an ideological debate about the best means of providing what customers want for the prices they can afford - Wokingham's Conservatives are currently investigating means for competitive tenders, while Labour in Reading is committed to public ownership and accountability through the ballot box.
Elsewhere the Audit Commission's OnePlace site gives public transport in Reading a coveted 'Green Flag' to indicate 'exceptional performance or innovation that others can learn from', although Wokingham gains none.
In their citation the Audit Commission describes how
"there is excellent cooperation between Reading Buses and the Council so the buses run on schedule. Bus priority lanes and satellite tracking give details on where buses are which has improved journey times and gives effective real-time passenger information. The Partnership is also introducing a live information feed to alter traffic control sequencing to give individual buses priority to reduce delays. Waiting times at bus-stops have reduced by increasing use of passes and smart cards. The number of passenger journeys increased by 970,000 in the past year and customer satisfaction is over 70 per cent."
Conservatives are in a pickle on the bread and butter issue of public services.
They don't want to be seen as hurting a popular local service, but at the same time they don't want to upset their more ideological supporters who fervently oppose state control of business.
So do secret deals to provide subsidies cut the mustard?
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