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New buses pledged in £32m Norwich Park and Ride deal

PUBLISHED: 11:02 02 April 2015 | UPDATED: 11:09 02 April 2015

The Norwich Park & Ride site at Thickthorn. Photo: Bill Smith

The Norwich Park & Ride site at Thickthorn. Photo: Bill Smith

Archant © 2014

New buses, improved frequency and free Wi-Fi have been promised on Norwich’s Park and Ride routes after a multi-million pound deal was struck which will see a shake-up for the service.

Timeline and usage of the park and ride

September 1994 - The first of Norwich’s park and rides was opened near the airport in Hellesdon.

2004 – The park and ride scheme wins the British Parking Association Park and Ride award.

March 2005 – The sixth and final site was opened at Thickthorn. At the time it meant Norwich had the highest number of permanent park and ride sites in the UK, with almost 5,000 spaces.

2011 – Norfolk County Council made the decision to combine Postwick and Sprowston park and rides. The new route combined the two, travelling from Postwick to Sprowston via Norwich Bus Station, Castle Meadow and Anglia Square.

Based on the last six months, there were:

188,000 passenger journeys a month (i.e. a trip on the bus either to or back from the city).

Around 51,000 vehicles parked each month across the sites.

Bosses at Norfolk County Council announced today that a contract has been awarded for a new look and revamped park and ride service for the city.

The county council has awarded a contract worth up to £32m to Konectbus, which already runs three of the six routes, to run the entire service, along with taking over the management of Norwich’s bus station, along with the park and ride sites.

Today’s announcement yielded promises of

• £3.7m on 18 new buses on city centre services, and three refurbished vehicles.

• Improvements to routes, frequency and hours of operation, including cross city links to open up more parts of the city without having to change buses and a new link to Norwich Railway Station on the Postwick service.

• Simplified fares and flexible ticketing.

• On board free Wi-Fi and information screens.

• CCTV for passenger security.

• A new Norwich Park and Ride livery.

However, the park and ride service from Costessey will no longer head into the city centre. It will be a dedicated service at the University of East Anglia, the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital and Norwich Research Park.

Konectbus bosses said that decision had been taken because of the low numbers who continued on into the city centre.

Konectbus currently runs the Costessey, Harford and Thickthorn services, while the Norwich International Airport, Postwick and Sprowston are operated by Norse.

The new service, with Konectbus running all the routes, is due to start in September this year. It is for an initial five years with an option for a further three.

Gavin Hunter, managing director of Konectbus and Anglian Bus, said: “We believe that the improved network, with more destinations, and the new buses we have invested in will offer an affordable and viable alternative to the car.”

The county council says the deal means the county council is no longer subsidising park and ride routes and bundling up the service with running the sites and the bus station will save £500,000 a year.

Today’s announcement comes just under a year after the launch of a multi-purpose smartcard ticket scheme for the city’s park and ride routes.

The Holdall card allows passengers to buy bus tickets without cash, similar to the Oyster Card used in London, but there was criticism that fares were increased at the same time as the card came into effect.

The first of the city’s park and rides was opened at the airport in the early 1990s, while the one at Thickthorn opened in 2005.

That made it the largest park and ride scheme in the country, although council cuts have led to unpopular changes, such as the closure of toilets at the park and ride sites.

Norwich Business Improvement District (BID) has been lobbying for improvements to the park and ride service so it better meets the needs of workers, businesses and traders.

Stefan Gurney, of Norwich BID, said the BID was convinced the council could make improvements to the service while cutting the subsidy it spends on the routes. He said as both the Costessey and Postwick routes are heavily subsidised, the BID had suggested scrapping these routes in favour of improving the frequency and operating hours of the other sites. Simplifying fares was also another key change the BID wanted to see.

Kieran Smith, who co-runs the Norwich Bus Updates Twitter account and website to provide people with impartial updates about buses in the city, said while park and ride passengers ride found some buses to be old with uncomfortable seats, they praised the efficiency of the service.

He said: “From what users of the service have told Norwich Bus Updates, it’s excellent on match days and events in the city centre – the Big Boom, for example.”

He said while the Holdall Card was useful for regular users of the routes, it had been criticised by those do not use the service so often, for example holidaymakers, who have to pay more for fares because they do not have one of the cards.

• Watch Mustard TV at 6pm tonight (Freeview channel 8 or MustardTV.co.uk) for a report on the changes.

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