In April, following the announcement by the bus company that they intended to close the bus station in Lymington High Street, we made contact with Hampshire County Council, the responsible authority for bus services locally and attended a meeting hosted by the Community Rail Partnership at Lymington Town Railway Station on 22nd April with representatives of HCC, NFDC and Go South Coast Ltd, the local bus operator.
The bus station has now closed without adequate alternative arrangements being clearly publicised.
Andrew Wickham, Chief Executive of Go South Coast and his operations manager Lymington came to meet committee members of the Society on June 2nd in Lymington.
The Society committee members pointed out that the bus station had been closed with very few notices of the alternative arrangements put up for the information of the public, particularly at the old bus station where one would now arrive to find some parked buses but no departures.
There have been various debates about the long-term and temporary arrangements for the buses but nothing had been decided or put into effect before the bus station closed.
We had a useful meeting with Mr Wickham, who first explained that they were the victim of the current austerity cuts by Hampshire County Council having to reduce its subsidy to the bus company by £700,000, which would have meant substantial cuts in services which could only be avoided by giving up some infrastructure. To minimise these cuts they intended to give up the lease of the bus station which was leased from their holding company saving them a significant sum of money. They had extended the occupation of the bus station as long as they could and have now run out of time and money to continue to occupy it.
He accepted that the information about the closure was not good although they have appeared to have printed a lot of notices. There was a note on the website if one could locate it.
At the suggestion of the Lymington Society committee members, Mr Wickham agreed that Go South Coast would put a notice in that week’s local paper and improve the amount of notices as to where buses departed from.
There were two major problems. The first was that it had not been possible to implement a permanent solution. The most obvious was to use the train station as the terminus for the buses. This would save the movement of buses between the service area at the train station and the bus departure point, as they would both be located in the same place.
We learnt that the prospects of a terminus for passengers at the train station was possible if Network Rail gave up a few parking spaces, to allow for buses to be able to swing right round rather than reverse. Reversing in the station forecourt is a dangerous procedure either with or without passengers. There have been meetings about this which have not reached a final result but there was still hope that this would be a possibility.
The second part of the permanent solution was the location of bus stops in the High Street. Currently, without the bus station, buses stop at the Post Office and then not until Gosport Street. We believe, their should be another pickup and drop-off point in the High Street. The drop-off point on the North side of the High Street could be quite modest, possibly by way of a small ‘build out’ pavement projecting into the road like the current pedestrian crossings so the buses do not need to take up car parking spaces by pulling in. Passing traffic can pull round or just wait for the moment or two when people disembark. The stopping time would be about a minute.
On the way up the High Street a suitable bus stop location would be near the existing entrance to the bus station using the old entrance to swing in and taking up only a couple of car parking spaces.
These proposals have been opposed by the Chamber of Commerce but the bus company took the view that they brought passengers into the town to spend a substantial amount of money. There seemed to be a statistic that each bus passenger spent more than each car passenger, possibly because bus passengers made the journey to town less frequently.
There would be an issue about stopping on market day but in any event buses were only routed one way up the High Street on market day.
The Lymington Society Committee’s view is that Lymington needs an integrated bus and rail service that allows people to visit the town by bus or train in a way that is convenient for them and benefits the local economy. An integrated bus and train service, with sensible timetables and bus stops in the High Street would achieve this.
The temporary situation was really quite unsatisfactory. Buses had to turn up Canon Street and go to East Hill and down East Hill to the roundabout and to the station for the drivers to have their statutory rest period. There was a complicated reverse journey. If two bus stops could be arranged in Gosport Street south of Station Road then buses could drop off and pick up at those bus stops and go straight down to the station for drivers’ rest periods and to recommence their journeys. Mr Wickham said they would reconsider that option.
The committee agreed that they would lobby the Town Council and the other various bodies that they were in communication with to try to achieve the best temporary and permanent outcome to an integrated train and bus system in Lymington which the Town deserved rather than the somewhat haphazard position at the moment.