'IT will operate as long as people continue to use it.'

That is the message from those behind the relaunch of Taunton's park-and-ride services - which faced closure just months ago.

In August, Somerset County Council announced the end of subsidies for the park-and-ride services, which operate from Silk Mills and Taunton Gateway, Henlade, in Taunton.

But Taunton Deane Borough Council (TDBC) has joined the county council and bus operator Buses of Somerset in a partnership aimed at making the service financially self-funded from end 2019 onwards.

Under the agreement, the county council remains responsible for the sites and Taunton Deane Borough Council has agreed to fund the service until September 2019 to enable the viability to be developed by Buses of Somerset.

Buses of Somerset will take responsibility for marketing and growing passenger numbers in a bid to secure its future by establishing the service on a purely commercial basis.

However, new fares are set to be introduced on Christmas Eve, which could put the cost of travel up for commuters in a bid to make the service financially sound.

READ MORE: Plans to scrap Taunton park-and-ride schemes being investigated

Councillor John Williams, leader of TDBC, said: “We are committed to this vital service for the people and businesses of Taunton which forms a key part of our wider investment strategy for the economic development of the area.

"These important edge-of-town transport links are essential for drivers looking for an efficient, cost-effective way of getting into the town centre, and are extremely beneficial to the local economy.

"The council has made a one-off contribution of £170,000 to ensure the service stays up and running until next September and during this time we are supporting Somerset County Council and Buses of Somerset with their plans to deliver a financially sustainable model for our Park and Ride.

"While this contribution cannot guarantee the long term future of the service, it has provided a window of opportunity to work with our county council partners and Buses of Somerset to put the service on a sound footing while a commercially viable service is developed to complement existing parking provision.”

READ MORE: Council's £170,000 contribution will keep park-and-ride open

Cllr John Woodman, Somerset County Council’s cabinet member for highways, said: “We fully support Buses of Somerset and Taunton Deane Borough Council with their aspirations to provide a self-funding park and ride service for Taunton.

"We’ve always appreciated the role of the park and ride, but in the past it was heavily subsidised and we simply no longer have the finances to do this.

"This refresh gives the service the best possible chance to continue operating commercially for years to come."

And Alex Carter, managing director of Buses of Somerset, urged people to use the park and ride in a bid to make it viable for the future.

“We are relaunching Taunton’s Park & Ride service. In partnership with the local authorities Buses of Somerset has been able to agree a strategy that put the Park & Ride service on a sustainable commercial footing, which mean that it will no longer be reliant on council funding but be self funded and will continue to operate as long as enough customers will use it," he said.

"We are confident that this will work and are fully committed to promote the service and attract more customers.”

The three parties marked the start of the journey toward a commercially independent future of the service with the launch of newly branded vehicles at Castle Green in Taunton.

On Monday, December 24, commuters will be charged new fares in a bid to put the service on a sound financial footing.

Customers will also be able to purchase tickets using the Buses of Somerset smartphone mTicket app from their mobile devices, making purchasing easier and speeding up boarding times.

Tickets purchased on the app offer discounts on the equivalent cash purchase on buses.

Buses of Somerset will also upgrade the signage at the park sites and town centre to help customers easily locate stops that the services call at.

To attract more customers, the bus operator is also working with Musgrove Park NHS Trust to promote the use of the Park & Ride services with their staff.

The partners are already taking steps to engage with Chamber of Commerce and Taunton retailers and employers.

Somerset County Gazette:
CLOSURES: How your County Gazette broke news of the closure proposals in August 2018