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Bus volunteers fight on

PUBLISHED: 16:42 17 April 2008 | UPDATED: 07:20 01 August 2010

THE volunteers who run a bus which is a lifeline for elderly people have refused to give up - even though their funding has been withdrawn.

When Suffolk County Council changed the arrangements for buses around Halesworth, it looked like it would be the end for the 511 service which had been run by volunteers for 13 years.

THE volunteers who run a bus which is a lifeline for elderly people have refused to give up - even though their funding has been withdrawn.

When Suffolk County Council changed the arrangements for buses around Halesworth, it looked like it would be the end for the 511 service which had been run by volunteers for 13 years. The bus was unusual because it would go off route to pick the infirm up from their doors, and drivers helped people with wheelchairs and shopping.

The county council has taken the timetables down and callers to its travel information service will not find out about the 511. But Halesworth Area Community Transport (HACT) is carrying on just as before, even it though no longer has the contract for the service. And the passengers do not seem to mind - on Wednesday this week there were 68 passengers through the day.

John Levy, chairman of HACT, said: “We have decided that the community comes first and we retain the right to run the 511.

“We had just bought a new Mercedes bus costing £67,000 when the county council pulled the plug on it.”

The bus is now running partly in competition to the new 601 service, run by Anglian Coaches and subsidised by the county council, which started last week. But Mr Levy said their bus served a different purpose.

“The 601 doesn't go off its route to drop people off, or right up to the hospital and the surgery. There are parts of the town it doesn't cover. Our drivers will get off to help people in wheelchairs. If someone needs a lightbulb changing they will pop in and do that. It is that kind of service.”

HACT is still in negotations with the county council, which has offered it funding to run a dial-a-ride service.

The bus has enough money to keep going for six months, but is looking for donations or sponsorship to secure its future, as well as more drivers. Mr Levy said the service was still free for those with bus passes, and they were hoping to continue to be able to claim government funding for those passengers.

A county council spokesman said they had only just been made aware that the service was continuing, and would be in touch with HACT to discuss what happened next.

If you can volunteer as a driver or offer sponsorship, contact HACT on 01986 875900.

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