Campaigners disappointed as late night airport bus service is set to be withdrawn

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A late night bus service, connecting Hastings, Bexhill and Battle to Gatwick Airport, is to be withdrawn later this month.

St Leonards and Hastings Rail Improvement (SHRIMP), Bexhill Rail Action Group (BRAG) and East Sussex Rail Alliance (ESRA), say they are ‘disappointed’ that the Early Bird 380 to Gatwick, run by Metrobus and sponsored by Gatwick Airport Ltd, is to stop running on April 22.

The twice-nightly service was introduced in mid 2015, initially running northbound only but then also southbound from November, to supplement the nonexistent early hours rail service.

However, despite low fares, the passenger numbers have been consistently low meaning the service is no longer commercially viable.

Martin Woodfine, from SHRIMP, said: “This was a bold initiative which we regret has not been the success that was hoped for. Hindsight is a marvellous tool, but the lack of promotion by the operators, a routing which by-passed population catchment areas, and unclear signage at the airport are all significant contributory factors to the failure of the service.

“In reality, a substantial percentage of the population never saw the bus or knew it operated, despite SHRIMP-placed media articles.

“Notwithstanding this failure, there may still be an opening for a service but with a different route providing links to other significant points as well as Gatwick, with wider operational times to make it more visible. We have ideas on this and would be pleased to have discussions with other potential operators – but there must be the caveat that there may be a period when the service remains an unrewarding commercial venture.”

Richard Madge from BRAG said: “Many people need to travel to/from Gatwick when the trains aren’t running be it for work, business or leisure.

“The service was ideal for either for an early morning check-in or on a late flight after the last train, which is relatively early at 23.19.

“We thank the operators for giving it a go, but any service that provided a link to Gatwick but which did not serve central Bexhill was always going to be difficult to sustain.

“The need for such a service clearly remains and it must be hoped that lessons can be learned to establish a viable service in the future, potentially limited-stop via Polegate, Lewes and Falmer.

“It would need to mirror the rail line catchment more closely and be heavily promoted by the operators to complement the rail service during overnight down-time.”

Ray Chapman from ESRA said the group “regretted” the failure of the venture.

Metrobus has expressed its thanks to everyone who supported the Early Bird bus initiative.

But the operator said it operated at a ‘significant loss’.

A spokesperson said: “We’ve been working with Gatwick Airport to provide these early morning journeys since last spring but despite lots of local support and promotion, the numbers of people using the service has continued to be very low.

“Unfortunately we cannot continue to operate the service at a significant loss.

“The last day of operation will be 22 April.

“We would like to thank everyone who supported this initiative.”

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