'Soaring fares hurt those who need buses in Cornwall most'
FEARS have been raised that an increase in bus fares across Cornwall could financially cripple those who are most dependent on the service.
Some users say First Group's planned rises, due to be implemented over a period that began last week and ends in April, could see some fares more than double and make buses unaffordable.
Mother of three Abigail Rowland, 20, from Redruth, said she relied on the bus service, but a near-doubling of the fares would cripple her family.
She blamed Cornwall Council's cut in subsidy, but the authority said fares were set by bus companies, and it had been forced to make cuts due to a reduction in the funding it received from government.
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Ms Rowland argued that savings should be found elsewhere rather than penalising those reliant on public transport.
"It's ridiculous," she said. "People are going to be hit so hard with these hikes. How are people supposed to get around with these sort of prices?
"My family has no other form of transport."
Matthew Hill, 22, walked from his home at Tuckingmill to Redruth gathering more than 500 signatures on a petition opposing the bus fare increases.
"The hikes are incredibly steep," he said. "How are people going to get around when they have to pay almost double the price? Something needs to be done to stop this and I hope this petition can gain some traction."
Councillor Bert Biscoe, portfolio-holder for transport and waste, said: "Cornwall is currently retendering its supported bus network and we very much hope that operators recognise that, as well as facing increased costs themselves, the relationship in Cornwall between subsidised routes and commercial ones is often crucial to keeping access going.
"Cornwall is characterised by a very scattered settlement pattern of communities that are well balanced and therefore with diverse transport needs. The bus is not necessarily the only efficient option, and the council is working to develop some alternative ideas, including rural car clubs and reinvigorated community transport.
"We have good relations with the bus operators but we are operating in a deregulated environment where the 'market' is contested.
"Trying to blend a market approach with providing social need-focused, subsidised transport is a complex job requiring close co-operation," Mr Biscoe said.
A First spokesman said: "For the first time in decades, we have carried a fundamental shake-up of fares and tickets in Cornwall.
"Previously, there was an extensive array of prices and tickets which made it difficult for our customers to decide the right one for their journey and for us to attract more people to use our bus services.
"We have also been faced with increasing costs associated with being a bus operator. These include higher fuel costs, a challenging economic climate and reduced subsidies from local authorities which have left us no option other than to make these changes."