Elderly and disabled villagers have been reduced to tears after the news that two "lifeline" bus services could be scrapped as council bosses look to cut costs.
Mobility Link, based in Stapenhill, provides door-to-door services and could have to scrap its Needwood and Lichfield Connect Mobility Link services, sparking fury among its 200-plus passengers, who live in rural villages near Burton. They say the loss of the service would leave then trapped in their own homes and unable to get to the shops.
It comes as Staffordshire County Council looks to axe thousands from its budget. The Needwood service, which operates in areas including Hanbury and Tatenhill, costs £53,000 alone a year for the authority to subsidise.
Mobility Link manager Sue Gardner said: "The service is a lifeline and is a social thing. Our drivers carry passengers' shopping into their homes and wheel them into the bus in wheelchairs. I have had people in tears saying they cannot manage without this transport to take them shopping.”
It comes as Staffordshire County Council has launched a consultation on how the budget for subsidising bus travel in Staffordshire can be best spent. By 2020/21 the grant it gets from the government will be zero, so then only vital county council services will be funded by local council tax and business rates.
All bus journeys made in Staffordshire are operated by either private bus companies or by voluntary and community organisations and the eight-week consultation looks only at the bus journeys subsidised by the county council. This includes cash it gives to Mobility Link which comes under the Dial-a-Ride unmbrella, which also operates Staffordshire Moorlands and South Staffordshire Connect services.
The council has come up with four possible options for public bus journeys and Mobility Link services it currently subsidises, which in some cases can cost as much as £10 per passenger per journey because too few people use the services or not enough income is generated to cover the costs, it says.
*****The council's preferred option is to revise the local subsidised bus services based on the lowest subsidy per passenger journey as it maintains the greatest number of journeys currently subsidised by the authority – and the lowest subsidy per passenger trip at £1.60. However, it would mean there would be no Dial-a-Ride services.
But for many Mobility Link passengers it is the only link they have with the outside world. Mrs Gardner said: "The Lichfield Connect was only set up last year. They don’t pay a fare as they often have bus passes. In the consultation form it asks would you be prepared to pay a fee and people we have spoken to said they would be prepared to pay.
"Needwood Connect has been going 20 years. In places such as Hanbury there are no shops, no doctor's surgery and no chemist. This bus is their only way of getting out and sometimes the only time they speak to people all week. If they didn't have this bus, for some it is seven miles to the nearest bus stop or £24 for a return taxi to Burton and from and they simply can’t afford that.”
Lichfield Connect was introduced in October, last year, due to the changes in public transport, leaving some unable to access a bus. At the time Mark Deaville, the council’s cabinet member for transport, said that "whether you're old or young, getting public transport when you live in a rural village can be difficult. That's why we're introducing this service, because it really has got the potential to change lives and give people more independence."
When asking about the threats to the Needwood Connect service Councillor Deaville said: "The Needwood Forest Dial-A-Ride costs more than £53,000 annually, so the actual subsidy is £13.50 each trip. We are consulting on four possible options for the budget available, two of which would see the Dial-a-Ride services largely maintained.
"We want to hear from as many people as possible, whether they travel by bus or not and the best way to do this is to go online at www.staffordshire.gov.uk/busreview and fill in our questionnaire."
About Needwood Connect
This is advertised as the easy way to get around your local area without a car. It offers transport to villages or connections for onward travel in the area.
It is available for anyone who lives, works or visits in the area. There is no age restriction and the service can accommodate people with wheelchairs.
The bus has seats for up to 15 passengers and can accommodate wheelchairs
The service operates door-to-door in villages such as Hanbury, Hoar Cross, Rangemore, Tatenhill, Yoxall, Dunstall, Draycott in the Clay, Anslow Gate, to Burton. It runs from 8am to 6pm Monday to Saturday.