“Appalling” cuts to Dorset’s bus services will go ahead.

Dorset County Council subsidises 35 bus services but has decided to only renew its financial support for seven of them.

The last services ran during the past week, with some finishing today.

Axed routes include the 212 Dorchester to Yeovil (bus users at Maiden Newton pictured below), 44 Bridport to West Bay, 311 Blandford to Dorchester and 201 Bridport to Litton Cheney.

Dorset Echo:

It comes as the cash-strapped council tries to make savings of £1.85m.

The council’s cabinet agreed changes last year following a consultation.

The move has been met with strong opposition, with fears the reductions will hit vulnerable people the hardest.

National director of Bus Users UK David Redgewell, who lives in west Dorset, said: “It’s horrendous. From what I can see, no other council in the south west has cut back on bus services to this level. There is very little left.

“To suggest the council has not got enough money to fund a public bus service is shocking in 2017. Lots of people use these buses and their lives are going to be absolutely appalling now.

“Rural communities will become isolated.

“Dorset relies heavily on tourism and in many places there are no bus services now. It seems the council does not care about economic development and tourism.”

Bus Users UK is calling on the council to work with passenger groups to look at alternative solutions to the funding issues.

Mr Redgewell is urging communities to contact their local MP with their concerns.

The county council has awarded new contracts for seven public transport routes and 13 secondary schools.

These have been awarded to Go South Coast (Damory), First Hampshire and Dorset, South West Coaches and Vale Coaches.

Cllr Daryl Turner, cabinet member for the natural and built environment, said: “The new contracts have been designed by talking with a range of companies and listening to local people about how we can meet the current and future needs of our communities and economy with less money available, as well as following discussions with potential providers and bus companies.

“We have had to think about travel in a completely different way, which has meant making difficult decisions.

“This means moving away from the old way of subsidising bus companies to run commercially unviable services that very few people use, to one that looks at the bigger picture and how we can work more closely with our communities.

“Schools, parents and pupils will have better information by only dealing with one bus company. We will focus on funding public routes that serve 80 per cent of our population and help our economy grow.

“And we are encouraging bus companies to open up more of their school routes to the public, providing further opportunities to travel, especially for college pupils over 16.

“At the same time, we will continue to help rural communities develop their own, more flexible options to keep people connected, which is resulting in a diverse and expanding community transport network.”

The council says it is working with transport operators to continue some currently subsidised routes on a commercial basis.

Two petitions opposing the bus cuts were handed to the county council on Thursday.

Cllr Andy Canning said: “People have become fed up of austerity but the message does not seem to have got through locally. People are facing real hardship and this is not the answer. Further cuts to bus services will impact people’s lives.”

Cllr Janet Dover added: “Residents are absolutely distraught.”

Meanwhile, Lisa Holmes, of Age UK Dorchester, said: “We have clients who come in on the bus from rural areas and without the bus they will be unable to attend our services. This is something we are very concerned about as older people face many huge challenges in later life and lack of transport has a massive effect on their overall wellbeing.

“The bigger picture is that if an older person becomes isolated, they will start to feel lonely and lose confidence. This leads to the person becoming less physically active so their risk of having a fall is greater. They will also start to feel very low which could lead to depression and feelings of anxiety about the future. They may already be coping with illness, bereavement or both and being even more isolated will make those issues even more difficult to cope with.”

She added: “We have seen how much older people benefit from being active and taking part in various groups – even attending a lunch club once a week can make all the difference. Older people would much rather be able to do their own shopping for example then have to rely on family, friends or neighbours to do this for them. I know of quite a few older people who have no one around who could do this for them and it is a constant worry for them.

“Community transport schemes play their part in getting older people along to medical appointments but these schemes rely on volunteers and not all of them can take people shopping or to social activities.”

The seven public transport routes starting on Monday, July 24 are:

• Route 1 – Blandford to Sherborne – South West Coaches

• Route 2 – Shaftesbury to Gillingham – South West Coaches

• Route 3 – Blandford to Shaftesbury – South West Coaches

• Route 4 – Sturminster Newton to Gillingham – South West Coaches

• Route 5 – Blandford to Dorchester – First Hampshire and Dorset

• Route 6 – Blandford to Salisbury – Go South Coast

• Route 7 – Sherborne to Dorchester – South West Coaches

The new school contracts, which will start in September, are:

• First Hampshire and Dorset – Beaminster School and Sir John Colfox School in Bridport and Woodroffe School, Lyme Regis.

• Go South Coast – The Blandford School, Ferndown Upper School and Queen Elizabeth’s School in Wimborne, Lytchett Minster School and Purbeck School in Wareham and Thomas Hardy’s School, Dorchester.

• South West Coaches – Gillingham School and Gryphon School, Sherborne.

• Vale Coaches – Sturminster Newton High School.

Dorset Echo:

Protesters gathered at a village bus stop, above, on the last day of an axed service to Dorchester.

Bus users in Maiden Newton say the decision to scrap the 212 service is ‘outrageous’ and accused Dorset County Council of being uncaring and short-sighted.

Blind Keith Pritchard relies on the service.

He said: "We had three weeks’ notice about this bus being stopped. We are being told we can use the train. I can only see outlines, I can’t see enough to get off at Dorchester West and get over that bridge.”

David Copp also relies on the service, as he has to use crutches to get around and also finds it impossible to use the bridge at Dorchester West.

He said: “I have lots of hospital appointments and will have to use the Country Cars service now.

“We were told to use the train at the parish council meeting, but I can’t.”

Another resident, Debbie Batten said: “It’s not just the old who are vulnerable, I know of at least two young people, single mothers, who use that bus to get to work.

“They will probably have to go on benefits now. Studies show also that if old people can’t get out and about their health suffers. The impact on the NHS, and on the environment from all these cars too – it’s just short-sighted to scrap the bus.”

Eve Cleall has been using the bus since 1954 and uses the 212 three times a week.

She said: “The trouble is we’ve got such an ageing population who rely on the bus. The train is full in the summer. We’re towards the end of the Bristol line.”

Spark of idea for bus link

In light of the cuts a charity in Southill has launched a community bus service for the area.

As of yesterday, the two buses ran by Dorset County Council stopped, leaving Southill with no transport system.

SPARK, a community charity in the area has therefore stepped in to help the residents.

The community bus launched in May and although it has had some users, members of SPARK are confident that with the county council services stopping altogether a lot more residents will use the service.

SPARK also received a grant from the county council to help provide support for the service.

David Harris, one of the members of SPARK, said: "As long as we have six to eight people the bus should pay for itself. And if a group of residents get together and decide they want to go somewhere different, then we can be flexible and the bus can do that.

"We want to work together with our community to keep this going.

"People do have to book in advance for the bus and as long as people use it, it will be successful.

"We just want people to know that this service is here for them.

"It's ridiculous to have no buses running in Southill. It's completely outrageous."

Anyone wanting to use the service should call in 01305 779157 or 07970 016851 and anyone with any questions or queries can contact David Harris on 01305 781660.

Commercial bus link

A new bus service will launch between Dorchester and Blandford next week.

From Monday, July 24 First Wessex will be running a weekday service from the county town, providing links for Milborne St Andrew, Bere Regis and Winterbourne Kingston.

Simon Newport, general manager of First Wessex, said: “We’re extremely pleased to be able to provide this service in partnership with Dorset County Council.

“Combining the two corridors between Dorchester and Blandford, via Milborne St Andrew, Bere Regis and Winterbourne Kingston, will improve the overall frequency between the towns. This is the first time that we’ve provided a bus service for the people of Blandford, making this new venture very exciting for us.”

The new Service 12 will operate under a contract from Dorset County Council which has been secured for the next seven years.

Throughout the school term, the new route will also serve Thomas Hardye School and Blandford School.

Mr Newport said: "We have the contract for seven years and we intend to work with the local communities along the route in order to ensure we meet the various demands.

"This contract will offer the residents along the Service 12 route peace of mind that they have another regular bus service that they can rely on.”

Timetables are available from Dorchester and Blandford TIC or to download from www.firstgroup.com/wessex-dorset-south-somerset