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Watford councillor defends ‘shopper hopper’ bus cost

A shopper hopper bus which cost Watford Borough Council £17.36 per ride was not necessarily a “waste of money”, a councillor has claimed.

Transport multinational Arriva axed its ArrivaClick dial-a-ride-style service at the end of 2023. According to the Watford Observer, the service cost the borough council around £1.5 million to run and has served 88,344 passengers since it started in Summer 2020.

At a council meeting on Tuesday, January 30, leader of the opposition Councillor Nigel Bell (Lab, Holywell) asked Mayor of Watford Peter Taylor: “As the figures show, one-and-a-half million pounds of taxpayers’ money was spent on this ultimately failed scheme, that was one of his flagship policies when he first stood as mayor.

“What is his message to all Watford council taxpayers about where their money went?”

The mayor, who is the leader of the council who sits on the Liberal Democrat benches, said: “I made a commitment to introduce that service.

“I think it’s important that when you stand on a manifesto and say you’re going to do something, you do it.

“I make no apologies for bringing forward a service.

“The numbers of people using it had increased over the course of the contract.

“I wish it were more and I wish Arriva hadn’t made the decision to finish that bus service.

“Ultimately, they are a private company who can make that decision.

“The fundamental problem with bus services in Hertfordshire is that we’re reliant on private companies.

“We should have a franchise model like we have in London, like they’re introducing in Manchester.

“That’s what I’d like to see in Hertfordshire, so we can have more control over bus services so they are affordable, better quality, more reliable services.”

In early 2023, Hertfordshire County Council chiefs rejected calls for a franchise model and warned the authority would need to spend “a lot of money” to roll out franchising.

Watford councillor defends 'shopper hopper' bus cost Harrow Online
Buses operated by three different firms on Watford High Street. Credit: Will Durrant/LDRS

Cllr Marilyn Devonish (LD, Central) said at the meeting: “I do know there are people who are in this room who have made good use of the service.

“Whether or not it was a complete ‘waste’ – I’m not quite sure that’s the way I would phrase it.

“It’s unfortunate that it didn’t work and that for whatever reason there wasn’t a take-up, but I would say with the people that I’ve spoken to who did make use of it, they wouldn’t consider it a waste.”

Before the ArrivaClick service ended, a company spokesperson said: “Arriva invested in ArrivaClick, a joint venture with Watford Borough Council, as a way of developing an additional public transport choice in the area.

“It has attracted passengers, but sadly, not at the level needed to ensure it can be cost-effective for us as a business.”

ArrivaClick services still operate in Ebbsfleet, near Dartford in Kent, and Liverpool, where passengers can use an app to book their journey.

Watford Borough Council has supported a new shopper bus, which began at the start of 2024. Passengers pay a “nominal” yearly fee of £10 for access to the service, which only operates on Mondays and Tuesdays, with fares at £3 each way or £1 each way for accompanying carers. Sign-up details are on the Communities 1st charity website.