Council urged to think again over bus subsidy cut


Jim Green

CUTTING bus subsidies for vital services would leave some elderly and disabled users marooned in their homes, campaigners have claimed.

Cheshire West and Chester Council (CWaC) will this week consider proposals to scrap free concessionary travel on the PlusBus and Women’s Safe Transport services.

The proposal is included in a series of measures designed to save £250,000 a year, but community groups fear the cutbacks target some of the most vulnerable people living in Chester.

CWaC environment director Steve Kent says central government funding has “significantly reduced” since 2010 and considers the possible changes are “appropriate and necessary”.

But Chester Adult PHAB founder Lynda Hesketh, whose social club welcomes people with and without disabilities, said many members rely on community transport services to get around.

She said: “I use the service myself and this is the first we have heard about it. There has been no consultation with us at all.

“Our members travel together on the PlusBus and it is an excellent service that gets people out and about. Without it some of them would not be able to come to our meetings and would be stuck at home.”

Currently concessionary travel pass holders travel free on community transport services with 84,000 passenger trips each year.

But under the proposals, pass holders would be charged £2 per single passenger trip with the council estimating the move would save about £80,000.

Council support for evening and Sunday community transport services could also be withdrawn, saving an additional £30,000.

Ms Hesketh said: “Many of our members are already struggling as they are seeing benefits cut and this will make things worse.

“I know some will not be able to afford to pay. Taxis are too expensive and some members are not able to walk very far to get normal buses.

“The PlusBus picks us up from our door and takes us back home. I don’t like that we have not been consulted and it would be terrible if these changes happened.”

Other measures put forward including scrapping half fare travel before 9.30am between Monday and Friday and allowing fares on council-supported services to be increased more than once a year.

Fares on non-statutory school and college transport services could also rise by 50 per cent from £1.50 to £2.25, bringing in an extra £40,000 annually, and the council also wants to change the way it decides which services to support and create a public transport forum.

Executive members will consider the proposals and decide whether to approve them when they meet on Wednesday evening.

Public transport pressure group the Campaign for Better Transport has urged council to continue supporting the services.

Campaigns director Richard Hebditch said: “What’s happening around Chester is typical of what we see across the country. Faced with pressure for cuts, councils are ratcheting up bus fares and withdrawing services.

“The people hardest hit are those who have no alternative to the bus – often the weakest in the community. We would urge the council to think again.

“Local people need to use their voice – we’ve published a guide for local campaigners which is full of advice and ideas on how to save local bus services.”

Community transport services in the Chester area are provided by ECT Group but nobody from the organisation wished to comment.

Disability centre DIAL House and the Chester Accessibility Action Group both expressed their “disappointment” at the proposals.

See full story in the Chester Leader

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