Flamstead and Redbourn villagers complain of ‘salami slicing’ of bus services to St Albans due to lack of council funding

A bus shelter.

A bus shelter. - Credit: Archant

Villagers in Flamstead and Redbourn have complained about the “salami slicing” of their bus service to St Albans.

The 34/35 Centrebus services which run between Dunstable and St Albans via Markyate, Flamstead and Redbourn was cut back in May after local authorities and bus operator Centrebus withdrew their support, meaning there is no service to St Albans City Station from Markyate after 6.59am and no return from the station to any of the villages between 8.08am and 5.27pm.

There is also no service to St Peter’s Street on the 34 service before 9.49am, and the last bus back from there is at 4.15pm.

Flamstead resident Hartley Dean said: “The problem is it’s an incremental effect over time.

“They made some changes to the 46 service and withdrew it from Flamstead all together. There was an uproar and minds were changed, but changes were made to the timetable.

“On this occasion and every now and again they are making incremental changes which are quite serious.”

On Saturday, there is only one bus running from Flamstead to St Albans City Station, at 7.34am, and only one return, at 5.30pm and the 34/35 does not run on Sunday.

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“It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy,” Prof Dean continued. “People cannot use a bus service which does not exist. The company say the numbers are falling off, but of course they are.

“People depend on the service to get to London and St Albans for jobs, some of which are part-time that are irregular hours, and education.

“I cannot get home on the bus. One could use the car, but that means parking charges and, environmental pollution and traffic on the roads. Who would want to live in Flamstead? Which young people would want to stay?”

A representative of Centrebus was invited to Flamstead Parish Council last month to explain the cuts, but did not come.

The council’s clerk Caroline Freer said: “It is a drip-drip of cutting the buses.

“We have to use taxis to get back in the evening.”

Aside from Flamstead, the third-largest settlement in the district, Redbourn was also been impacted by the cuts.

This is despite plans before the district council to drastically expand the village by approximately 5,000 new homes as part of the Draft Local Plan.

Redbourn resident Eugene McLaughlin said: “If you are working late you are significantly impacted because there is no way of getting a bus out to Redbourn if you leave St Albans after a certain time.

“The council does not think our service is viable and neither do the bus companies. So it’s a double whammy.”

Mr McLaughlin suggested the 321 service, which goes from Luton to Watford, be redirected to stop at Redbourn and make up for the cuts.

A Herts county council spokesperson said: “Following Centrebus’ commercial decision to make a number of changes to the 34/35 service earlier this year, the county council has considered the value for money of providing additional support to reinstate the original journeys and routing against its Bus Policy criteria.

“Unfortunately it could not make a case this funding would provide better value for money than other existing services funded by the fixed Local Bus Budget.

“The county council is therefore unable to support these journeys, and has not yet been able to secure external contributions from other local organisations.”

St Albans council’s head of planning Tracy Harvey said: “A recent review showed that use of some services had declined significantly while the cost had increased. For example, the 657 evening bus carried an average of only two passengers per journey. As a public body, we have a duty to ensure value for money for our residents and it was felt that our spending could not be justified any longer.

“We withdrew the subsidy for the 34 and 657 evening services from 1 April 2018 and this will result in yearly savings to the public of approximately £61,000.

“Our review involved extensive consultation with the parish councils involved. This has included discussions about alternative forms of community transport.

“Any residential developments in locations put forward in the draft Local Plan would be required to deliver transport network improvements such as public transport upgrades as well as walking and cycling links.”