The famous 300 service which follows the Exmoor coast between Minehead and Lynmouth is under threat of withdrawal from Somerset County Council.
Quantock Motor Services runs the route, often using an open-topped double decker, and managing director Stephen Morris says he’s bewildered the county council is considering withdrawing its subsidy.
He said: “The problem is all the services we run west of Minehead are cross-subsidised by money we make on the 300 over three months in summer.
“Part of the issue here is this was always considered a socially desirable service and, despite the fact the economics aren’t commercial, the county council issued a contract to operate the 300 service and pay them to so do.
“We are three years into that seven-year contract, and on the strength of that we bought a new bus and refurbished an existing one. Now the council seems to think it can just walk away. We’ve invested heavily.
“It brings a lot of people in – it’s good for business on Exmoor. Hikers love it. It gets national exposure and brings huge publicity to the area.”
Mark Sanders, who co-owns a pub and restaurant on the route of the service, said: “We rely on it to bring our team to work, as well as diners to our door. Tourists love this picturesque route, many residents rely on it and traders benefit from it. It is a unique and beneficial tourist attraction to the area.
“What’s most disturbing for us is we’re about to grow – we are building careers and have two management positions available for two young people from Minehead who don’t drive. It could mean these guys don’t have a career here.
“We understand in winter months it’s difficult from a commercial perspective, but in terms of what it offers to our area, this bus service goes so much further.”
Dan James, sustainable economy officer for Exmoor National Park Authority, said: “The 300 coastal link service, as well as the 401 Exmoor link for which funding is also proposed to be withdrawn, are popular services which enable people of all abilities and backgrounds to enjoy the wonders of the national park in a sustainable manner.
“The 300 service is one of the most iconic journeys in the region, if not beyond, and provides a vital link to the South West Coast Path.”
Somerset County Council’s cabinet member cllr Harvey Siggs said: “It’s a difficult decision, but we just will not have the finances to keep subsidising services as we do. Subsidies can be as much as £11 per passenger on some routes.
“There will still be an extensive bus service in Somerset with specialised services for the elderly and vulnerable, vital links to education and health and no changes to the most popular and important routes on the network.”
The consultation ends on Friday (January 13).
For more details visit www.somerset.gov.uk/bussurvey, or call 0845 345 9155. The “Save the 300” petition is at www.theculbone.com