The Welsh Labour Government wasted almost half a million pounds last year on the T9 Airport Express Bus, according to new figures obtained by the Conservatives.
Labour’s Transport Minister – Ken Skates – confirmed the figures recently in answering a written question.
Around £1.3m has been given in grants and subsidies to the Vale Council for the T9 over three years – despite cuts to local Vale bus services, including the 98 to Highlight Park, Barry.
The Conservative candidate for the Dyfan Ward in Barry – Vincent Bailey – has called for the T9 to be scrapped, with money saved being spent on restoring local services.
Mr Bailey, said: “The amount of taxpayers’ money being thrown at the Empty 9 is an absolute scandal.
“Almost half a million pounds was wasted last year by the Welsh Labour Government on a service that locals still can’t use, and a bus which still regularly runs empty.
“It’s time for the T9 to be scrapped, with the savings spent on improvements to local services in the Vale.
“Barry residents deserve a better transport service and having fought to stop cuts to local routes such as the 98 to Highlight, I can understand their anger and frustration at seeing this empty bus rolling along Port Road every 20 minutes or so.”
A Welsh Government spokesman pointed out that since it took ownership of Cardiff Airport in 2013, it had become one of the UK’s fastest growing airports.
“Passenger numbers have increased month on month for 20 straight months, and grew by approximately 15 per cent between 2015 and 2016.
“It’s imperative that our national airport has regular public transport to and from it and we’d expect these numbers to continue to grow as the airport continues to expand and increase in popularity.
“We have protected our ‘Bus Services Support Grant’ to all councils in Wales in recent budgets, which enables them to subsidise bus and community transport services they deem necessary in their areas.
“The Vale Council is separately and additionally reimbursed for the operation of the T9 service. It has never been a case of choosing local services over the airport shuttle, Vale communities should expect both.”
Coun Peter King, cabinet member for transportation explained that the Vale Council tendered the contract for the Cardiff Airport Express Service T9 on behalf of the Welsh Government, which wholly subsidises the service through a specific grant.
He said: “The current projected cost for 2016/17 is £450,334 and the latest data indicates 7,126 people used the service in December.
“The withdrawal of this service would not necessarily mean that its funding would be directed to support other local buses in this or other areas of Wales. This would be a matter for Welsh Government to decide, not the council.
“The service helps make Cardiff Airport and Wales more accessible, especially the capital Cardiff, which has knock-on benefits for surrounding areas like the Vale.
“In an effort to ensure the T9 causes minimum disruption to local services throughout the Vale, passenger journeys have to either start or end at the airport terminal. That means they don’t have a negative impact on other bus services operating on a commercial basis along parts of the route.”
He added: “Service 98 is a commercial service provided by Cardiff Bus. However, a small amount of financial support is agreed annually in order to provide continued service provision between Christmas and New Year. Without this the service would not otherwise run due to Cardiff Bus’s application of Saturday timetables over this period.”