Derbyshire council chiefs pull funding for '˜lifeline' bus service
Cash-strapped council chiefs are to pull funding for a '˜lifeline' travel service for pensioners.
Derbyshire County Council has announced that the money it gives to Dial-a-Bus - currently £689,000 - will be withdrawn from October 2017.
Around 1,300 people with mobility problems rely on the doorstep service every month to go shopping and visit friends.
But Councillor Dean Collins, cabinet member for highways, transport and infrastructure, said the need to find budget savings meant ‘difficult decisions had to be made’.
Reacting to the news, the chief executive of Community Transport for Town and County, Patrick Dawson, said: “We are not very pleased at all.
“We have already had passengers expressing concerns to us saying ‘what are we going to do?’
“We are told there might be a proposal to replace it with something but we don’t know what - it’s like Derbyshire’s Brexit.
“This means the end of what we do - without the funding we will be unable to operate the service.
“Money is being found to continue with the subsidised bus services which a lot of the time run with just one or two passengers but they are cutting services that disadvantaged people rely on to do their shopping.
“I see buses passing our office in Ripley all day with hardly anybody on them - each of those services gets a £40,000 subsidy each year.
Mr Dawson said it was ‘rather ironic’ that on the day the cuts were announced, he was at a conference at which a government minister was talking about the value of community transport.
“It seems the government value us but the local authority does not,” he said.
And Mr Dawson’s passengers seem to feel the same way.
One, Celia Johnson, who is disable, said she was ‘absolutely horrified’ by the proposals.
Celia, 64, of Swanwick, said: “If they stop it I won’t meet anybody and be stuck in the house all the time.
“I will get depressed and fed up looking at the same four walls and not seeing anybody. Without being able to have a cup of coffee in the cafe at Tesco I would have no social life at all.”
Celia has been using the service since 2008 when a fall she had two years earlier meant she had to retire early.
The nearest bus stop is half a mile away which she says is just impossible for someone like her.
“One day a week they pick you up at home and take you to your local supermarket for £3 - it is well worth the money.
“But it’s not just a bus service - they help us get on and off the bus and make sure you are safe on it as well.
“They also bring your shopping in the house and leave it somewhere where it is easy for you to unpack.”
She is also worried about events like the annual Christmas dinner - which this year will take place at Broadway on December 3.
“Without the service all that will stop, it is a real lifeline,” she says.
Despite going ahead with plans to cut the Dial-A-Bus service, Derbyshire County Council have agreed to rethink proposals to cut subsidies for 144 other bus services.
These services - which carry around 4.2 million passengers a year - are typically early morning, evening, Sunday and rural services and some routes serving housing estates.
However, following a consultation earlier this year, councillors have now announced they will reconsider their original plans and approve £3m funding - down from the current spend of just over £5m.
Coun Collins said: “We had a huge response to the consultation - and it’s clear that going ahead with our original proposals for cuts with the inevitable loss of bus services would have a significant impact on the day to day lives of many Derbyshire residents.
“We’ve listened to people’s concerns and as a result we’ve thought long and hard about what we can fund in the future.
“We recognise that getting out and about is a top priority, especially for younger and older people to retain their independence.”
As part of the consultation, the council received more than 4,200 questionnaires which included nearly 25,000 individual comments - as well as around 200 letters, emails and telephone calls.
Feedback showed that 92 per cent of respondents said they disagreed with the proposal to withdraw funding for subsidised bus services.