Passenger forecasts for £80m Luton and Dunstable Busway fund were ‘embellished’, admits senior councillor

Cllr Dave Taylor at the opening of the busway

Cllr Dave Taylor at the opening of the busway

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Passenger forecasts used to secure £80m in funding for the Luton and Dunstable Busway were ‘embellished’, according to a senior councillor.

The £91m busway, which opened a year ago on Thursday, has now passed more than a million journeys– though the uptake is less than half of what was originally predicted in a 2008 business case submitted to the government.

The submission for the project suggested that 828,000 journeys would be made each quarter (9,000 a day), but figures released on Tuesday show that the uptake during the second and third quarters of its operation were 59% down on that estimate.

The statistics echo the busway’s first quarter (October 1 to December 31), when passenger levels were just 41% of what was expected.

Following the latest figures Luton Borough Council’s portfolio holder for environment, Cllr Dave Taylor, has told the Herald & Post that the original forecasts sent to the government in 2008 were ‘embellished’.

He added: “You have got to be optimistic with the numbers, we were not going to underestimate it.

“With this sort of thing you need a crystal ball, which unfortunately I do not have.

“At the time we were predicting the growth of the town, the amount of jobs, the growth of the airport and what the economy would look like in 2011 when it was due to open.

“In 2008 we hadn’t hit the recession yet as well.”

Cllr Taylor denied suggestions that the government were misled by the figures, adding that the scheme had been backed for its concept.

He said: “The purpose of it was to deliver a rapid transport scheme and it was approved on that basis.

“It does get a little bit tiring when the 2008 figures are quoted...eventually those forecasts will be met.

“I think 1.3m passengers (annual estimate) is good going and the bus companies are confident in the busway.”

In an online poll run by the Luton News/Dunstable Gazette this week, readers overwhelmingly agreed that over the last year the busway has not provided value for money.

Just 97 respondents (17%) said that the scheme was money well spent, while 461 (83%) disagreed.