Thursday, 25 February 2016 21:10

Dorset 'determined' to combat rural isolation

Written by  Ruralcity Media

Dorset County Council says it is determined to combat isolation after a £500,000 cut in rural bus routes.

The local authority said it would work with rural communities to find different ways to help people get around and prevent isolation.

It follows a decision by the county council's Cabinet to reduce its funding for rural bus routes by £500,000.

"Community engagement" will be carried out as a matter of urgency as the authority seeks to save more than £16m in 2016/17, said the council.

Instead of subsidising once- or twice-weekly buses, councillors had committed to work with communities to develop local options.

The goal was to offer a more flexible way to connect people with work, school or healthcare.

The council is also looking at using empty seats on school buses and its own social care vehicles for use by rural resident.

It said this could mean more people having access to transport than do now.

The Cabinet considered the results of a four-week consultation on the changes, which received more than 1,300 responses, on Wednesday (24 February).

The council is launching a series of community engagement meetings led by local councillors across the county.

Working together with communities, it said it wants to develop alternatives to conventional buses.

One option is to develop a countywide 'hub and spoke' network of community links with main commercial bus services to towns.

Looking forward, the council also plans to open up school transport routes for use by sixth form and college students as well as the wider public for travel to work, shopping or leisure.

Cabinet member Peter Finney said: "It is clear that the existing approach of subsidising commercial bus companies is not working and offers poor value to the public and bus users.

"By working closely with communities, we are taking a fresh approach to shape a range of transport options that will prevent isolation, help people's health and wellbeing and support our economy.

"By offering more flexibility, community transport network can provide something better than we have now, for more people."

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