THE LEADER of the town's bus company has hit back at criticism from councillors after a popular rush-hour service was withdrawn.

Reading Buses terminated the 19a/c services in the latest batch of timetable changes and CEO Martijn Gilbert says the measure was taken due to concerns about financial viability.

'Cost pressures' caused Reading Buses to lose money on this route over the last few years and despite financial support from Wokingham Borough Council (WBC) the service had to be reduced and renamed.

Mr Gilbert explained: "Wokingham had been receiving a service which was increasingly financially supported by Reading's main bus network.

"We honoured that contract until its expiry this year, but it is not appropriate or fair for Reading's owned transport system to subsidise such services beyond the original contract term.

"This has led to some reduction in the service but also an increase in the contract price, such were the previous losses."

Councillor Pauline Jorgensen slammed the bus company after the council increased the subsidy in order to protect the route, only to discover the service had been reduced and renamed as the '12' route.

She said: “Residents have informed us Reading Buses has been telling them that WBC has reduced funding for buses in the area, but the truth is plain for all to see.

“It is Reading Buses, wholly-owned by Labour-run Reading Borough Council, which seems to be failing to put first the needs of commuters and hospital-goers living in Woodley and Earley.

“Local residents can be assured that your councillors will continue to stand up for your interests.”

Members of Maiden Erlegh Residents' Association (MERA) also met to discuss the issue earlier this month, suggesting a last-minute demand for more money prompted the demise of the service.

Steve Feltham, secretary of MERA, added: “The council was ill-prepared to respond to this at such short notice before the new timetables were due to come into effect.

“The new timetable makes no sense. The more profitable rush hour services have been withdrawn altogether."

Mr Gilbert said the decision reflected on the 'harsh realities of the current economic environment' and said the changes were permanent.