Wokingham Park & Ride Facilities Receive Government Funding To Improve Services

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Two under-used park and ride sites in Wokingham Borough will be rolled into action on a trial basis as part of the council’s efforts to protect and improve local bus services.

It has agreed to provide funding, through a grant from the Department for Transport (DfT), to relaunch a Saturday park and ride service between Winnersh Triangle and central Reading from late November.

Following a tendering process and registration with the Traffic Commissioner’s Office, the renewed service will be run by Reading Buses. The DfT’s funding is time limited and not guaranteed beyond March 2025, so the service must become commercially viable or it could be stopped.

The council will also be opening the car park at Coppid Beech, off Oak Avenue in North Wokingham.

Passengers wanting to use the Lion 4/X4 service to Reading, Bracknell and Wokingham town centre can  park near the stops on London Road, with electric vehicle chargepoints available for general use. Usage will be monitored and this could also be closed if it isn’t well used.

The trial was confirmed following an individual executive member decision (IEMD) by Cllr Paul Fishwick, executive member for active travel, transport and highways, on Tuesday, 24 October. Residents are urged to use these services, and all other buses, as an alternative to driving wherever they can.

Progress stalled by unforeseen roadblocks

Before the coronavirus outbreak, Reading Buses ran a frequent commercial park and ride service at Winnersh Triangle. This attracted funding from Thames Valley Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) to expand the site and build another at Coppid Beech.

The business cases were scrutinised and approved by the LEP, and both were also funded by statutory contributions from developers building new homes in the area.

However, following a national drop in passenger numbers during the pandemic, the Winnersh Triangle service was withdrawn. Since then, Reading Buses has decided it wouldn’t be commercially viable to relaunch this because demand is still too low.

Although passenger numbers are slowly climbing towards pre-covid levels for many bus services, the nationwide shift towards remote working means that park and ride services are running at just 40 to 45 per cent of pre-covid levels.

The money for the Winnersh Triangle service will come from grants totalling just over £800,000 which the DfT has awarded the council over two financial years. The final amount will be decided after monitoring passenger numbers.

To attract DfT funding, the council has produced a Bus Service Improvement Plan and struck an “enhanced partnership” deal with local operators to identify ways of bringing the plan to life.

The clock is ticking – use it or lose it

Cllr Fishwick said: “We’re pleased to see our efforts to seek Government funding for bus services are paying off and we hope this announcement will be welcomed by our residents.

“We’ve had a lot of queries about the future of these sites – and we can assure people that we’ve worked hard to find realistic ways of bringing them back into use despite the massive and unforeseen changes brought about by the pandemic. Nobody could have predicted the events of 2020, nor the impact they would have on bus travel, especially park and rides.

“Increasing usage of our bus services is central to our efforts to reduce air pollution, congestion and carbon emissions, along with promoting active travel methods like walking and cycling, which aligns with our climate emergency action plan.

“We urge everyone to make the most of these opportunities to leave the car at home – your actions now will decide whether they’re still here later.”

Next stop? It’s up to you…

The Winnersh Triangle service will initially run every 20 minutes on Saturdays only, and until at least mid-April 2024. The council would like to extend this to weekdays, but this would depend on passenger numbers and revenue.

Thanks to the Government’s current £2 cap on single fares, no return journey will cost more than £4 per person plus the relevant parking fees, and concessionary bus passes are accepted. Any decision to change the service beyond April 2024 would be taken in February.

Coppid Beech is about a three-minute walk from the bus stops at Keephatch Gardens, where the Lion 4/X4 service calls to Wokingham town centre, Bracknell and Reading from Monday to Saturday. There is also a half-hourly Sunday service.

The site, which has 251 spaces, could also be used for local parking or by electric vehicle owners wishing to use the 14 chargepoints on site.