Exclusive: Taxpayers taken for a ride over £20m car park that hardly anyone uses
Misgivings were voiced about the town's "quality bus corridor" project before work on its construction even began and the shock new figures have led to it being slammed as a "ludicrous waste of money".
The scheme has 400 spaces at a southern base and 400 to the north of Doncaster town centre. But figures held by the South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive (SYPTE), which runs both car parks, show only a handful of those spaces are used daily – often fewer than a tenth of those available.
Statistics obtained by the Yorkshire Post show that on a busy day about 95 cars arrive in the south and about 50 in the north, while on quiet days fewer than 30 can be expected at both.
Numbers are particularly low for the northern site, at Green Lane, Woodlands, where daily car figures have been as low as 19 and usage rarely breaks through the 60-a-day barrier.
As part of the QBC, an inbound bus lane was also built on the A638, with the southern stretch on Bawtry Road through the suburb of Bessacarr, and the northbound on York Road to Woodlands.
The project has been unpopular with residents who live along the route, and Doncaster's Mayor Peter Davies, who lives close to the southern bus lane, has vowed to "review" it.
The QBC scheme was supported by previous Mayor Martin Winter and opened on September 1, 2008. Parking is free and return tickets to town cost 2 for adults or 10 for a week.
Mr Davies said the new figures bore out his suspicions the park and ride scheme was "the most colossal white elephant" and a "monument to Labour incompetence and profligacy".
He added: "It is a ludicrous waste of money, and the people who have wasted it should be ashamed of themselves. I am actually surprised that the figures are as high as they are.
"It is just not convenient for people to use buses in Doncaster, and whichever way you look at it this has been a complete disaster. My plan would be to scrap the bus lanes and open them to cars."
Mr Davies said at present that would not be possible without "serious ramifications" for future Government funding for the town, because Westminster paid 15m towards the project. But he added if there is a change of Government this year, he may attempt to persuade a new Conservative administration the project should be reversed.
Mr Davies' comments were echoed by Geoff Bennett, a member of the Bessacarr and Cantley Forum, who said he was "not surprised" so few people were using park and ride.
Mr Bennett added: "I think these figures are optimistic, and from the point of view of people living in this area, the whole QBC project has been a complete waste of time and money.
"There is a dedicated service which runs on the route during the day, and the general impression people have is that every single bus is empty and this is infuriating as you watch them go through.
"The scheme was also supposed to improve congestion along the route, but you would not notice any difference. The road is still heavily congested and it appears to be of no benefit whatsoever."
First South Yorkshire, which operates the park and ride buses and invested more than 3m in a new fleet for the project, said bus priorities must be "maintained and retained" to give the project the best chance of growth.
Deputy managing director Brandon Jones said First remained committed to the scheme despite slow growth.
"It is growing in terms of popularity and we expect that it will continue to grow in the future. These types of project do need time to build but we believe that once people experience it, they will want to use it," he said.
"Perhaps there may be an argument that marketing needs more consideration, but we believe it is a very good product and we are keen to work with the council and the transport executive."
Monthly statistics show there has been some increase in patronage and transport officials say usage has tripled, but admit this is from a "low base" and only involves very small numbers.
Sales figures show the Woodlands site achieved sales worth 1,107 in the entire month of November, while the more popular southern site achieved sales of 2,691.
Despite this, David Brown, director general of SYPTE said: "The park and ride sites in Doncaster are a valuable addition to the public transport offer.
"Last month was the busiest month yet. During 2010 we hope that trend will continue upwards and even more people will take advantage of the chance of free parking at either of the two car parks and the convenience of catching the bus into town."
RUNNING ON NEAR ENOUGH EMPTY
Average daily car figures for Doncaster park and ride (400 spaces available at each site every day)
Month South North
Jan 42 24
Feb 43 22
Mar 47 23
Apr 44 21
May 42 21
Jun 49 26
Jul 49 25
Aug 44 22
Sep 54 25
Oct 55 28
Nov 62 35