Concern over Suffolk County Council's removal of bus pass eligibility on Connecting Communities transport services
A council’s plan to remove bus pass eligibility on a transport service which aims to reduce isolation in rural areas will leave people ‘stuck with nowhere to turn’, a councillor has warned.
Suffolk County Council has proposed to prohibit people from using bus passes on the Connecting Communities bus service to ensure that the service is equal across the county – those in Mid Suffolk, Waveney and Ipswich already have to pay a full fare – and to adhere to national guidelines.
But Cllr David Nettleton has said that the move will result in elderly people being unable to leave their homes.
“For a lot of elderly people, walking into town is not an option and is too far so instead they will stay at home,” he said.
“They’ll be stuck with nowhere else to turn because they can’t afford to catch the bus twice a day. The problem is that the council has geared up to the car system and aren’t interested in looking at an alternative.”
A Suffolk County Council spokesman said that the council ‘remained dedicated’ to supporting community transport and rural services and that of 147,435 journeys taken through the service in 2017/18, only 16,652 were made using bus passes.
She added: “In the 2019/2020 budget, £200,000 has been pledged towards developing community transport.”
Cllr Beccy Hopfensperger, cabinet member for adult care and councillor for Thingoe North rural district, said that the move was ‘disappointing but unavoidable’.
“It’s disappointing if people are restricted in being able to use this valuable service because the whole idea was that it would serve areas where there are no other buses running,” she said.
“But there are other services which still accept bus passes so that’s an option for people. It’s only a small amount of people who will be affected but it’s something that is out of our control. It has to be about equality of services for the whole county.”
Christopher Dashper, chairman of Thurston Parish Council, said he was 'disappointed' to hear of the change as the services were 'often vital for isolated rural residents'.
"Community transport offers a personalised service to travellers, allowing them to reach medical and social appointments where mainstream bus services cannot, or do not, travel," he said.
"These community-based services overcome the restricted frequency of rural bus service timetables and also provide a fully accessible, wheelchair friendly service to those who need it.Voluntary and community bus services also provide important social interaction for rural residents, allowing them to meet others on their journeys and to travel together to and from social activities.
"Thurston has been heavily impacted by recent planning decisions, with over 1,000 new homes planned for the village over the next few years, but with limited supporting transport infrastructure improvements and no additional services such as a doctors surgery. This leaves an ongoing requirement to travel for essential services for most of the community and as the village grows and the population ages a decision to further restrict the ability of some rural residents to travel on a suitable transport service can only have a negative impact."
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More by this authorRhoda Morrison