Campaigners have condemned “a dark day” for Hertfordshire after draconian cuts to bus services were pushed another step closer.
Dressed as fantasy characters, protesters shouted “shame- shame on you” as Hertfordshire County Council’s Highways and Waste Management Committee recommended cuts of £1.47m to bus services in Hertfordshire.
Labour leader Leon Reefe branded the cuts as “devastating” and the proposals were pushed forward despite 9,000 signatures opposing the proposals being handed to council chiefs this morning.
If Hertfordshire County Council accepts the recommendations on Tuesday, funding will be slashed from services which run after 7.30pm, funding will be axed from contracted services on Sunday, except those which directly serve hospitals.
One campaigner told Hertfordshire County Council 56 per cent of people “who responded to the second consultation said they would not be able to go where they wanted to go” if spending was axed.
Councillor Stephen Giles-Medhurst, leader of the Liberal Democrats in Hertfordshire County Council told the meeting “Not a single iota of compassion has come from your side. You got this wrong. The second consultation showed that 70 per cent were against the proposals for after 7.30pm.
“90 per cent are bus users and 53 per cent are over 55 years old.
“None of that has been recognised. Quite frankly, this is a black day for the county council and a black day for public transport. If you push this through, you are effectively saying you not care about public transport.”
He also questionned why council chiefs were not listening to the bus operators, who are saying "this is wrong", according to the Lib Dem leader.
According to council documents, Sullivan Buses said: "Disappointed these are additional to proposals to remove funding from evening and Sunday services.
"Very disappointed proposed savings are now double that of previous consultation despite the opposing responses.
"Cuts impact on people going to and from work; many are on low pay and/or young."
In a heated debate, one campaigner stormed out of County Hall, saying to the chairman of the panel, Councillor Terry Douris “You’re rubbish. To save you throwing me out, I am walking out.”
This was in response to the senior Conservative saying: "Some buses have one person or no-one on it.
"Whilst I accept there were 15,000 who responded to the first consultation and a significant number who responded to the second, that is actually a very small number of the population."
1.1million people live in Hertfordshire.
Security was present outside County Hall, who were expecting large numbers of protesters.
Conservative members of the Highways and Waste Management Panel have argued the proposals would affect just “two per cent” of passenger journeys in the county.
But the council's own documents previously admitted people would be left "isolated" by the changes.
Councillor Seamus Quilty said: “When I was first elected, I was sent to a training exercise and we were told to represent the whole of Hertfordshire. We have a duty to represent the whole of Hertfordshire, not a specific, small number. I am looking at this from the view of the whole county.”
“I am looking at the fairy tale people in the back and to a certain extent, they are not living in the real world.
“We need to save £56 million, that is the real world.
After the meeting, Martin Abrams from the Campaign for Better Transport branded today’s meeting as a “box-ticking exercise.
He said: “The second public consultation was a forgone conclusion.
“It’s a very dark day for Hertfordshire.
“What this means is, some of the most vulnerable people in Hertfordshire are going to be hit the hardest, people who rely on buses to access public services, older people that rely on them to take them out of isolation, younger people who use them to access education or training.
“It will hit these people hardest and this is what happens when people are making decisions about public transport when they never use public transport they have zero empathy or zero sympathy for people who use public transport”.