AN open-top shuttle bus intended to boost South Tyneside’s tourism industry cost the borough’s council taxpayers more than £25 for every journey it made, it has emerged.
The bus service, launched in July 2013 to link South Shields town centre to the seafront, was introduced by South Tyneside Council and operated by bus firm Stagecoach with the aim of making it easier for summer visitors to get around.
But new statistics, released in response to a request made under the 2000 Freedom of Information Act, reveal that the bus was often running with few or no passengers.
Figures show that 4,393 people used the bus that year. Based on its timetable of 19 journeys a day, that is an average of just three and a half passengers for each trip.
That means the cost to borough taxpayers to run the service was £25.26 per journey – equivalent to £479.94 every day.
No decision has yet been taken on whether the service, also run from April to November last year, will be in operation again this year.
A spokesman for South Tyneside Council defended the shuttle, saying that it “helped showcase wonderful improvements to South Shields seafront”.
He said its service period was extended last year “resulting in more people using it”.
The 2013 bus costs were revealed following a request by civil servant Richard Lees, of Spohr Terrace, South Shields.
The service ran seven days a week from July 22 to September 1, then on Saturdays and Sundays from September 7 to October 27.
It then ran for another seven days from October 28 to November 3.
Its route, two miles each way, took it from Church Way to Chapter Row, Keppel Street, Fowler Street, Winchester Street, Anderson Street, Ocean Road, Sea Road and the New Crown Roundabout and back for a fare of £1.30.
Mr Lees has questioned the financial validity of the bus, given the council’s need to make £22m in savings in the next financial year, following on from £100m worth of savings over the last five years.
He has written to the three Labour councillors for the Beacon and Bents ward in South Shields, through which the shuttle ran, to seek their views.
Mr Lees said: “In July last year, I noticed that the above service was running again and was very surprised by this. Every time, I saw the bus in 2013, it was either empty or had very small numbers of passengers on it.
“I asked South Tyneside Council for the information about the service in 2013, and they confirmed there were 4,393 users.
“From the timetable information, I have calculated the buses did 1,235 journeys in 2013. This means, on average, 3.5 passengers were on each trip.
“The council confirmed they had spent £31,200 towards this service.
“In a nutshell, the bus cost council tax payers in South Tyneside £25.26 per journey, or £479.94 a day, to run.
“With an average of 3.5 passengers per journey, it cost South Tyneside Council £7.10 per person per trip.
He added: “I have asked the councillors if they think this is an appropriate way for funds to be spent in the current financial climate and whether they support the service being run this year.”
A council spokesman said: “The South Shields Shuttle, with its open-top feature, was first introduced in 2013 to help showcase our wonderful improvements to South Shields seafront and provide better links between the seafront and town centre over the six-week summer holidays.
“The service was extended last year, resulting in more people using it.
“We have heavily invested in the seafront over recent years, with the new Haven Point leisure complex and striking new promenade at Littlehaven, not to mention the restoration of South Marine Park and improvements to Sandhaven Beach.
“Our 365 masterplan for South Shields town centre is rapidly gathering pace, and the value of the link between the seafront and town centre cannot be underestimated.
“When considering the value of this service, it is essential to take into account the broader economic benefits associated with providing better connections between the town centre and the coast.”