Thursday, 09 June 2016 19:55

Charity helps save rural bus routes

Written by  Ruralcity Media
Charity helps save rural bus routes

A community transport organisation is helping to maintain rural bus routes following drastic budget cuts.

Dorset Community Transport is operating services on almost half the routes previously run by Dorset County Council.

It comes after government cuts forced the local authority to reduce spending on subsidising public transport by £500,000.

The biggest impact of the cuts was on rural bus services operating one or two days a week.

Support for some 26 services was withdrawn, including five routes run by Dorset Community Transport (DCT).

At the time, DCT was running a pilot scheme of accessible, door-to-door transport for people who find it difficult to use public transport through its PlusBus service.

The end of the pilot coincided with the cuts, allowing DCT to offer 12 services to the community, covering almost half of the bus routes that had been cut.

DCT also decided to subsidise two of the services that it ran for Dorset County Council on an interim basis, as part of the organisation's charitable objectives.

DCT general manager Tim Christian said: "The council changes happened within a very short time frame.

"It meant the local community did not have time to come together and find an alternative.

"However, due to the fact that DCT was already running a pilot, we were able to jump in very quickly with a solution to provide continuity and meet the essential transport needs of the area."

DCT is now offering a variety of weekly services to a destination town across the county.

Passengers need to pre-book their journey but it is possible to make one-off bookings and also arrange regular weekly bookings.

Service user Ella Smith said: " I can use the service to get into Blandford for my weekly shop and doctor's visits. It means everything to me, a total life line."

Mr Christian said it had been a big cultural change for the community.

But he added: "We have worked hard to engage with people on how community transport schemes can be more responsive to their needs for social and leisure journeys.

"We were overwhelmed by demand, queries and concerns.

"Now we have been able to settle into the routes that we run, the next step is to improve, refine and expand the service according to the needs identified by the community."

Anna Whitty, chief executive of DCT's parent charity ECT Charity, suggested other community transport organisations could use the Dorset experience as a template.

"This is a great example of how community transport can provide a solution for those that are unable to access public transport by virtue of geographic isolation.

"It's not about replicating other existing successful bus schemes, but about plugging the gaps and, in so doing, reducing rural isolation."

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