First buses in Norwich puts up fares
Cash-strapped Norwich families are facing more price hikes after the city's biggest bus company announced it was raising fares from Sunday.
Households have already been hit this year by the 2.5pc VAT rise, rising petrol and food prices and higher utility bills.
And now Norwich-based First East England buses, which runs services in Norfolk, has revealed ticket prices are going up on average 3pc with some routes facing heftier hikes.
The increase on many services comes just 10 months after a previous round of price hikes. But the bus operator said that all rises had been kept to a minimum, and that it was the first price increase on the majority of its single and return fares for nearly two years.
But council bosses and transport campaigners have urged First to think again and warned that cash-strapped customers could be driven off the buses because of the price hikes.
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Some of Norfolk's other bus companies have also revealed they are planning rises in April.
Steve Morphew, leader of Norwich City Council, said: 'Any increase is disappointing and will add further pain to hard-pressed family budgets.
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'We have to wait to see what justification First gives but the prices are already very high and this is unlikely to encourage people to switch from their cars to public transport.
'It would be a shame to see empty seats, empty buses and routes threatened by under-use because passengers had been scared away by price hikes.'
Meanwhile, Denise Carlo, chairman of the Norwich and Norfolk Transport Action Group, warned that price hikes could force people off the buses.
She said: 'First's fares are already unaffordable for many now, so any increase – also coming on top of the recent cuts to some bus services – is a double whammy and will drive people off the buses.
'First should think again, especially given that its fares are already more expensive than other local bus operators.'
However, there was some sympathy for First from Norfolk Bus Watch, which campaigns for bus users.
Its spokesman, who did not wish to be named, said: 'While we regret these current fare rises, they have to be seen in the light of the forthcoming cuts to bus operator grants, which will be introduced later in the year by the government.'
A spokeswoman for First confirmed that from Sunday, February 6 it was introducing fare changes across the majority of its tickets.
The spokesman said: 'The increased fare revisions have been kept to a minimum, mindful of our commitment to making the bus the preferred travel option.
'This is the first price increase the majority of our single and return fares have seen in nearly two years.
'Our 2 Stop Hop ticket – available in Norwich, King's Lynn and Bury St Edmunds – and all fares in Bury St Edmunds remain unchanged.
'Undoubtedly, the turbulent economic climate at present will create many challenges for businesses throughout the country.
'However First remains in a strong position to continue to deliver the very highest level of bus services throughout the East of England.' From February 6, single fares for travel in Norwich Zones 1 - 4 will rise from �2.20 to �2.30 and travel in Norwich Zones 1 - 5 from �2.70 to �2.80, however travel in Norwich Zone 1 only remains at �1.10
Meanwhile, an adult Norwich Day Ticket will rise from �4.80 to �4.90, an adult Great Yarmouth Weekly Ticket will go up from �13 to �13.50, and an adult King's Lynn Day Ticket from �2.10 to �2.20.
Two-trip tickets in Norwich will go up from �3.80 to �3.90 and 10-trip tickets in Norwich from �18 to �18.50.
As reported, it has been a difficult year of trading for First with passengers in the East cutting back on non-essential travel.
The company, which employs 917 in the region, including 22 in its Norwich headquarters, is also facing the prospect of significant cuts in reimbursements from the government to cover concessionary bus fares, including free travel for over-60s and disabled people, which could affect bus operators nationally.
The firm's accounts for the year to March 27, 2010, published recently on the Companies House website, showed an increase in turnover of more than �500,000 to �38.3m, while profit before tax was up about �230,000 at almost �1.7m.
For details on individual fares across First East England, contact customer services on 08456 020 121.
Have you got a transport story for the Evening News? Call reporter David Bale on 01603 772427 or email firstname.lastname@example.org