A REPORT into the controversial T9 airport bus has revealed that the under-performing service has so far cost taxpayers nearly £250,000.
The service, which shuttles passengers to and from Cardiff Airport, has come under scrutiny following months of controversy - with some labelling the service a "ghost train", due to a lack of passengers.
Having only been launched in August, the report - by the University of Glamorgan's Professor of Transport Stuart Cole - states that the service should see improvements in the summer when the number of people flying from Cardiff increases.
After four months of operation the service, which runs every 20 minutes throughout the day, has cost the Welsh Government £242,691, at a subsidy of £11.33 per passenger.
Other figures in the report show that at its busiest the bus has seen just 3.35 passengers per one-way trip, and at its lowest - during November - 2.90 passengers.
Commenting on the report, South Wales Central AM Eluned Parrott, said that while she agreed that analysis during the winter months could not provide a fair idea of the route's success, she criticised the lack of a marketing campaign in the lead-up to the "rushed" launch in August.
She said: "As Professor Cole points out, it started operating at the end of the holiday period, so there was never going to be a huge amount of passengers.
"I believe this can change over the summer period. However, the Welsh government should look at reducing the frequency of the link over the quieter periods."
Vale AM Andrew RT Davies said that he was disappointed that the report had recommended against allowing Barry commuters to use the service.
“Allowing the service to pick up from a limited number of stops on the route on one of the T9’s three hourly services would not only have significantly improved links between the Vale and Cardiff," he said, "It would potentially have gone some way towards addressing the disappointing take-up in passenger numbers to date."
He continued: "The fact that it has already cost the taxpayer almost a quarter of a million pounds in just four months is worrying.
"I live in the Vale and see the T9 several times a week at various points in the day. The reality is that it frequently runs empty and the fact that it has been called the ‘Empty 9’ by locals says it all – it’s like a publicly funded ghost train.
“What concerns me most of all is that Mr Cole’s report reveals that almost no strategy was put in place to ensure that the route would be a success. There were no targets set for passenger numbers and, worst of all, there was no market and development strategy because it was rushed so quickly into service."
The report concludes that "the summer schedules will bring more passengers and the patronage is intended to grow. If it does not the T9 service will not be justified."
Professor Cole goes on to explain that if the bus can achieve eight passengers per round trip, more than double the current number, it will be profitable and worthwhile retaining.