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Bus service used by elderly to be axed

PUBLISHED: 15:51 07 February 2008 | UPDATED: 14:01 21 May 2010

A POPULAR bus service which collects the elderly and infirm from their homes is being axed to save money.

Feelings are running high about the plans to end the 511 route, which serves Halesworth and neighbouring Holton and takes people, mostly elderly, to the shops, hospital, and other services.

A POPULAR bus service which collects the elderly and infirm from their homes is being axed to save money.

Feelings are running high about the plans to end the 511 route, which serves Halesworth and neighbouring Holton and takes people, mostly elderly, to the shops, hospital, and other services. It is run by Halesworth Area Community Transport (Hact) and staffed by volunteers.

But Suffolk County Council, which funds the service, will not be renewing the contract this year. Instead it plans to make changes to the 521 route, which is currently run by Anglian buses from Halesworth to Aldeburgh, but is being changed to go around Halesworth and will only run as far as Southwold. Unlike the 511, it will not pick people up from their homes and will not be able to offer the same kind of help to those in wheelchairs.

At the moment the 511 carries 85 people a day on the four days a week it operates, and also takes people to British Legion and Lions Club events. It gets a subsidy of £64 a day, as well as 45p for each passenger who uses a bus pass. The county council has suggested that Hact tender for the revised 521 service, but the group believes it would be impossible for their volunteer drivers, who are mostly retired, to run a regular service as far away as Southwold.

Company secretary Tony Goldson said: “We are not in a position to operate a commercial bus route like the 521. There is no way we can do it. I think Halesworth is getting a raw deal.”

Phillip Magill, contracts and information manager at Suffolk County Council's passenger transport group, said: “It is partly about efficiencies and also, to be blunt, about saving money. The 511 has been incorporated into the 521. Residents will still receive a bus service.

“No final decision has been made. It is a question of whether taxpayers' money should be thrown at a bus service that only serves on or two people.”

He said if enough money was available the council would consider funding a dial-a-ride type service in the town.

Town councillors have agreed to write to the county council to support the 511. Ezra Leverett said: “The county council are trying to pull the wheels off it when it is still working. For someone to sit in Ipswich and say the Halesworth community transport system will also work in Southwold, run by volunteers, is ridiculous.”

County councillor Wendy Mawer said told this week's town council meeting: “The fact that they have missed the point about the local nature of the service is what we need to get across.”

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