'Use it or lose it' - Bus service at risk as it loses £30-a-day on route

Caroline Topping, Nicola Pursey, Doreen Clark, Barry Darch and Wendy Somerfield fighting to save BorderBus' town service.

Caroline Topping, Nicola Pursey, Doreen Clark, Barry Darch and Wendy Somerfield fighting to save BorderBus' Beccles town service. - Credit: Reece Hanson

A town's "lifeline" bus service could leave dozens of passengers "isolated and lonely" if numbers don't pick up.

BorderBus' Beccles town service route offers passengers a chance to get into the town and back home for just £3.20.

But with the service losing the company around £30 each day, its future is now at risk.

Nicola Pursey, of BorderBus, said: "This bus service is crucial to so many people who rely on it as a lifeline and the potential loss of it would be catastrophic to them.

"It's great for people's mental health to help them get out and about when maybe they can't walk very far.

"Unfortunately at the moment a reduction in passenger numbers means we are losing around £30 each day just to operate.

"We have a morning and afternoon school run and that is currently subsidising our town service route."

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Mrs Pursey said while the service has never been a profitable one, its importance to the town means it is worth keeping active.

She said: "We get £1.32 from Suffolk County Council (SCC) each time a concession pass is used.

"Through Covid SCC were reimbursing us based off our pre-pandemic numbers, but that has stopped now and we have only seen 70pc of our concession numbers come back.

"This service has never made a profit and only sometimes breaks even, but we want to stick with it because we know how crucial it is to our passengers.

"But this loss is too much to take with wages, rising fuel costs, maintenance of our buses and taxes."

Caroline Topping, leader of the Green, Liberal Democrat and Independent opposition group on East Suffolk Council

East Suffolk and Suffolk County Councillor Caroline Topping - Credit: East Suffolk Council

East Suffolk and Suffolk County councillor Caroline Topping said the loss of the service could mean the choice between travelling into Beccles or putting food on the table during the cost of living crisis.

She said: "If you get a taxi from the Rigbourne Hill area into town, that's £5 one way, or £7 if you're in Worlingham.

"With the cost of living crisis at the moment, if people are already struggling then that extra money could be the choice between going into town or putting food on the table.

"If people can pay one-way, then they're essentially paying £2 for a return trip, rather than having to get two taxis, and it helps keep the service going.

"It is a huge deal for residents if their local bus service into town is lost, but some people still don't have the confidence to get the bus after the pandemic."

Wendy Somerfield, chair of Worlingham Parish Council, said: "It is an important service for residents, especially with an elderly population like ours.

"Our residents do rely on the bus but with a majority of passengers being concessions it means the bus isn't viable."

A number of passengers have opted to pay a single fare and use their concession pass on their return journey, or vice-versa. 

Irene Hayhoe, 86, said: "I use this service two or three times each week and I remember when we had a public meeting about potentially losing the service last time before BorderBus took it over.

"We were told then that if we could pay one-way, it would help keep the service running and I've stuck with that ever since."

Passenger Lindy Roberts hailed the service as a way of tackling social isolation among members of the community.

She said: "This bus is like a happy family. The passengers are very friendly and if they can't catch the bus there would be a lot more lonely people out there, left on their own behind closed doors, who will miss getting to go out and see a familiar face on the bus.

"If you can't walk then it is going to be difficult and expensive to get around.

"I like to have a chat with the passengers and get to know their names. I love the bus and I look forward to seeing people. I care about the people here.

"It's not the same getting a taxi because you don't see many people, and I am a bit of a chatterbox."

The new mayor of Beccles, Cllr Barry Darch.

Mayor of Beccles Barry Darch - Credit: Beccles Town Council

'Use it or lose it'

The issue was discussed at a meeting of Beccles Town Council on Tuesday evening, June 7.

Town mayor Barry Darch said: "We are in imminent danger of the town's bus service disappearing.

"BorderBus are keen to keep the service running but they are losing about £30 each day.

"It's clear a large number of people would lose out, particularly people without cars or with mobility problems.

"There may be things we can do as a council to support the bus and spread information we need to get across, including about how concession cards work.

"It is now a case of use it or lose it.

"It might be possible to encourage bus users to use their card for one of the trips and pay for the other, but that would of course be individual choice.

"The sad reality is the service could be lost by the end of the summer."

Border Bus services face a three-week disruption. PICTURE: Jamie Honeywood

BorderBus could be forced to stop their Beccles Town service. - Credit: Archant

'Lost' without the bus

Passengers on the service this week hailed the importance of the bus.

Glenn Fuller, 61, said: "I am disabled after having a stroke and if the bus wasn't here then I wouldn't be able to get around.

"I'd have to get a taxi because I can't walk too much."

John Sampson, 84, said: "I have to get the bus to get to hospital for appointments regularly and would have to pay for taxis otherwise.

"It picks up near to my home and really helps me to get around."

Jean Long, 84, said: "I walk down the hill from Worlingham into town, but I can't get back up because it is too steep, so I would be lost if the bus didn't run."

Margaret Greaves said: "My husband has a lot of health problems and can't walk very far, so he would be completely isolated without the bus, and he'd need to get taxis to the hospital for appointments.

"He wouldn't be able to go out, whereas now he's out every Tuesday and Thursday, and some Saturdays too."

Zillah Whitehead, 83, said: "It is very important to me. I sometimes only get out once or twice a week but I hadn't been out for nearly two years because of the pandemic so I've only just started again.

"I usually pay one way and use my concession card for the other.

"I like to use the bus, so many people rely on it."