Cheshire West and Chester Council’s Cabinet has approved extending the current Chester Park and Ride contract for one-year with Stagecoach, the current service provider. This will cover the period from 3 July 2023 to 2 July 2024.
This decision allows the continuation of Park and Ride services in Chester from Wrexham Road, Upton and Boughton Heath sites. A new procurement exercise will take place to evaluate the range of options available and gather evidence necessary to inform contract considerations for the future Park and Ride services in Chester.
Park and Ride services were introduced in Chester in November 1983 in recognition that parking requirements could no longer be met without detriment to the historic centre of Chester. The three Park and Ride sites provide 2,410 car park spaces.
Sealand Road has a further 760 spaces, it remains closed due to slower passenger recovery post Covid-19 pandemic. All sites will be fully considered in any new or revised Park and Ride contract.
The current Park and Ride contract started in July 2016 and is operated by Stagecoach on behalf of the Council. The operator is paid a fixed amount to operate the services, but the fares and frequency of services and the vehicle standards are set by the Council. The contract length was for a period of five years with options to extend by mutual agreement in two, one-year increments. The current contract ends on 2 July 2023. An extension of the contract will allow time for a thorough review of costs and assessment of alternative operational models.
Councillor Karen Shore, Deputy Leader of the Council and Cabinet Member – Environment, Highways & Strategic Transport said:” We have now established a Bus Service Improvement Plan and an Enhanced Partnership Plan and Scheme to shape the future of local bus travel in the borough, for which Park and Ride will complement the transport offer.
“Within the last eight months, a further operator has withdrawn from the bus market due to difficult trading conditions. Therefore, procuring a new Park and Ride contract before now, has not been recommended.”
The Council has already spoken with operators to test the commercial market’s Park and Ride capabilities. This will help to inform the decisions for future Park and Ride service delivery.
A group including some of the largest employers and trip generators in the Chester area has been set up to understand how to shape the future of the Park and Ride service to better meet passenger needs, amongst other transport topics.
Passenger levels have seen a 63 per cent recovery of pre-Covid levels, which far exceeds the national picture for Park and Ride, reflected in a small reduction in the overall deficit for the service.
In recent months the Council has introduced improved, temporary, signage from the motorway introduced new livery on the buses, increased marketing and promotion, particularly in relation to the opening of Chester’s New Market. Further investment in permanent signage and Park and Ride infrastructure will be needed to improve the welcome of the sites to new users.