Tuesday, April 1, 2014

News: FreeBee rides again

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FreeBee, the popular free bus service between Rotherham town centre and Parkgate is set to continue for at least the next two years thanks to investment by the owners of Parkgate Shopping.

The free service ran every 12 minutes from 8am to 6pm Monday to Saturday between the main retail areas of Parkgate Shopping and Rotherham town centre, whilst also running around the town linking areas such as the council offices on Main Street, Rotherham Leisure Complex, the markets and the bus station. It has carried an estimated two and half million passengers since the environmentally friendly Euro V bus made its first trip from Rotherham Interchange to Parkgate in October 2009.

Under proposals put forward by South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive (SYPTE) and South Yorkshire Integrated Transport Authority as they aim to make savings of around 10% to their annual budget, the two FreeBee bus services in Sheffield and Rotherham centres, which are funded by public subsidy, would be discontinued from the end of April.

Now, the owners of Parkgate Shopping, Hercules Unit Trust, of which British Land is the major shareholder, has put forward £236,000 for the next two years, prior to the opening in 2016 of the Tram-Train service between Sheffield and Parkgate.

The free service, which will now comprise of just one bus, will operate every 20 minutes from 28 April between Rotherham Interchange and Parkgate only, via St Ann's Leisure Centre.

Denis Copeland, manager at Parkgate Shopping, said: "When we launched the free service in 2009 alongside the SYPTE we were not only responding to a demand from shoppers and employees, but creating a sustainable alternative for the many people who want to combine trips to Parkgate with a visit to the town centre.

"The popularity of the service has exceeded all our expectations and confirmed the value of the strong link between ourselves and the town centre. We are delighted to be able to maintain the connection into the future as a valuable free service, and thank all our partners who have helped us to retain this sustainable transport initiative."

The bus will continue to be run by family owned Powells Bus Company, who operate from a purpose built depot on Hellaby Industrial Estate with a 45 strong workforce. Managing Director, Ian Powell, said: "We were delighted to have been retained on this very successful service as it has proved to be by far the most popular route that we serve in the region."

David Young, deputy interim director general at the SYPTE, added: "We are pleased the FreeBee service is able to continue to operate between Rotherham Interchange and Parkgate, and welcome the private sector investment in public bus services at this time of ongoing austerity. Maintaining this popular service will help to continue to connect people to employment and leisure activities in Rotherham, and goes some way to reducing the customer impact as a result of government cuts."

Parkgate Shopping website

Images: Thomas Cousins via Wikimedia Commons

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