COMMUNITIES are up in arms after a bus company revealed it was axing services in Dorset.
South West Coaches is withdrawing buses on routes which are not financially viable but have been described by elderly passengers who rely on public transport as a ‘lifeline’.
They include the Downclose estate service in Wyke Regis, Weymouth, and a Portland bus serving The Grove and Wakeham, where no other companies serve the areas.
Company bosses say the ‘regrettable’ withdrawal of services comes after reduced government funding, particularly for the concessionary bus fare scheme.
The 13 routes affected in Dorset and Somerset are commercially-operated services not subsidised by Dorset County Council.
Passengers losing buses in rural areas can pick up other connections in their villages but senior travellers relying on the two-hourly 205 Portland Bill service and the half-hourly 207 Downclose service face a long walk to pick up a connecting First bus.
Weymouth and Portland councillor Kate Wheller said it was another ‘black mark’ for public transport in the borough.
She is calling for subsidised routes to be reviewed to see if funding can be found for communities which have lost their services.
Coun Wheller said: “I have received numerous phone calls, particularly from elderly people who will be confined to their homes when they lose the bus service that passes close by – it is a disgrace to cut people off like this.”
Pensioner Eddie Vaux, of Doncaster Road, Wyke Regis, said: “The 207 stops near my house and when it goes I’ll have to walk to Portland Road to catch the First bus. I wouldn’t mind if it was even two-hourly but to withdraw it completely isn’t right.”
Neighbour Geoff Grigg added: “I’ve got my own transport but my eyesight is failing and soon I’ll have to rely on the bus which is a lifeline for the estate.”
Penny Seaward, who is starting a petition, said: “It’s the most vulnerable members of society who will be penalised.”
Borough councillor Colin Huckle, who with Coun Wheller wants to meet the bus operator for talks, added: “We cannot leave the residents of Downclose, Southlands, The Grove and Wakeham without this important lifeline.”
Public transport team leader at Dorset County Council Terry Spracklen said: “It is a shame that South West Coaches isn’t able to carry on with these routes. Our budget for subsidising local bus services is fully committed.
“However, we will talk to our partner operators to see if any of our existing contracted routes could be modified to cover any of the affected areas.”
* SERVICE manager for Somerset-based South West Coaches Lewis Trahar said the cuts came down to the fact there were not enough people who pay to travel to allow the firm to make any money.
He said the government had this year reduced the amount companies get for the concessionary bus fare scheme, which allowed free travel for elderly people, prompting the firm to review services where a high number of passengers use concessionary fares. The amount firms can claim back on diesel has also been reduced.
Mr Trahar said: “We’ve had to take difficult and regrettable decisions.
“Our costs are going up and our income is going down and that puts pressure on when your main form of income is concessionary fares and your main cost is fuel.
“It is the worst part of my job when I have to take people’s buses away but our business as a whole has to make sense.”
He added: “If there’s a significant need, it should be a subsidised service.”
Routes run by South West Coaches which will be cut at the end of November:
205 Weymouth-Portland Bill. Six days a week service. The Grove and Wakeham will lose their bus service.
207 Weymouth-Downclose. The estate will lose its six days a week service.
32 Castle Cary-Salisbury (does not affect Dorset).
117 Wincanton-Sturminster Newton.
202 Chard-Dorchester (Weds only).