SUMMER buses serving part of the New Forest National Park have been axed after subsidy cuts caused by a fall in passenger numbers.

Operated by Go South Coast and supported by the National Park Authority (NPA), the Beach Bus linked several parts of the district including Hythe, Lepe and Lymington.

The service was launched in 2013 as part of a campaign to reduce the number of cars on Forest roads.

It ran six times a day, enabling people from Southampton to travel to Hythe by ferry and take the bus to other coastal communities.

An NPA spokesman said: “Since our sustainable transport funding from the Department for Transport ended, there has been significantly less money available to support schemes such as the Beach Bus.

“This means we have to look carefully at where our funding will deliver the best results.

“As passenger numbers on the Beach Bus have reduced in recent years, the decision was taken to reduce our funding for the service.

“This has led the operator, Go South Coast, to replace the Beach Bus with an extension to the Bluestar 9 service, ensuring people can still leave their car at home and travel by bus to Lepe Country Park during the summer.

“Bus travel will also still be available from the Waterside to Beaulieu and Lymington through the New Forest Tour during the summer.”

Cllr David Harrison, an NPA member, described the cancellation of the Beach Bus as a “backward step”. He added: “It’s important to try to provide alternatives to the car, especially with some of the congestion and air quality issues we often face.”

Andrew Wickham, of Go South Coast, confirmed the bus had fallen victim to subsidy cuts, coupled with a decline in passengers.

He added: “We will be extending Bluestar 9 from its current terminus at Langley Farm down to Lepe Country Park during the summer school holidays.

“Two buses each hour will run on Mondays to Saturdays between 10am and 5.30pm and hourly on Sundays between 11am and 5pm. This will give Lepe Beach a much improved frequency of service and open it up to a wider range of populous locations - including Southampton, Hythe and the rest of the Waterside.”

The Beach Bus service had been heralded as a “key part” of the NPA’s sustainable transport policy.