ESSEX County Council is being urged to change park and ride pricing to get more people using the service after a dramatic fall in numbers.

Calls are being made to get pricing systems altered to encourage passengers back to the scheme that is being propped up with millions in council funding.

Since 2011, park and ride passengers in Chelmsford have fallen 42 per cent – sparking calls to review the way the park and ride is priced to encourage more people to use it.

Millions have been spent funding the scheme in Chelmsford – since 2015 £2.39m has been spent operating two park and ride sites at Chelmer Valley and Sandon.

In that time passenger numbers at Sandon rose from 418,000 to 449,000 in 2016, before dropping to 432,058 in 2018

Chelmer Valley’s passengers increased from 215,000 to 230,000 before falling to 219,000 in 2018.

However since 2011 passengers have fallen from 1.12m in 2011 to 650,000 in 2018, leaving concerns that the way park and ride is priced is discouraging take-up – at the moment passengers are charged not per car but per bus ticket.

The cost of the tickets is £3.60

An all-day parking space near Chelmsford railway station is as little as £7.

Roy Whitehead, leader of Chelmsford City Council, said: “I have spent many years arguing with the county council on the charging structure.

“I believe it should be changed and have put forward ideas on that. There are different ones in different places.

“Some charge for parking, some for getting on the bus. I suspect a combination of the two is the best one.”

Since 2011 ECC has raised park and ride prices from £2.20 to £3.60 – to help raise revenues thereby mitigating the £2m gross cost of running the scheme.

And although passenger numbers are falling it hasn’t stopped Cllr Whitehead from urging another park and ride scheme to run from the west of the city.

He said: “We are keen to promote park and ride and are trying to seek another park and ride at Widford.

“From that point of view, the last thing we want to do is discourage it – quite the reverse.”

There are three park and ride services operated by Essex Highways, two in Chelmsford – Sandon and Chelmer Valley – and one in Colchester.

All these sites offer “convenient transport on modern, air conditioned buses”, using designated bus lanes into the city and town centres, with stops at key locations.

Liberal Democrat County and City Councillor Stephen Robsinon said the pricing structure currently offers no incentive for people to use the service.

He said: “It has got to be a good service that people want to use.

“In some towns in France they have introduced free park and rides, but it’s important we take into consideration pollution and congestion as factors because they don’t feature in the core revenue costs. Park and ride should be a key part of Chelmsford’s transport strategy, to reduce congestion and pollution.

“If park and ride can be made to work in other areas, why can’t our Conservative-run councils make it work in Chelmsford?

“They should have been continually tracking user numbers and satisfaction, and taken action sooner to address falling numbers.”

A spokesperson for Essex County Council, said: “We regularly review the fares for our park and ride services and offer a range of affordable tickets, including off-peak group fares, which are fantastic value for money for people travelling to Colchester and Chelmsford who want a stress-free and environmentally friendly way of accessing the centre.

“The central aim of our park and ride service is to reduce congestion by providing those who make single occupancy car journeys with a good quality, sustainable alternative.

“The estimated cost of congestion in Colchester and Chelmsford is over £20m for each area per year.

“Therefore the level of investment in the park and ride services is appropriate.”