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Old folk

PUBLISHED: 10:48 05 March 2008 | UPDATED: 10:15 01 August 2010

ELDERLY people who rely on a community bus service to get to the hospital and shops will be left isolated and marooned when it is scrapped to save money, according to the volunteer drivers.

ELDERLY people who rely on a community bus service to get to the hospital and shops will be left isolated and marooned when it is scrapped to save money, according to the volunteer drivers.

The 511 route, which serves Halesworth and nearby Holton and picks up passengers from their front door for free to go to the shops and hospital, is being axed and replaced by an extended commercial service.

It is currently run by volunteers from Halesworth Area Community Transport (Hact) but when all bus routes were recently reconsidered by Suffolk County Council the volunteers were unable to submit a tender for the service. It is now being axed and replaced by an extension of the Anglian Coaches 521 service, which councillors and residents claim will not be accessible for all the elderly people who rely on the bus to get into town.

Derek Cocker, from Suffolk County Council's passenger transport department, explained to Halesworth Town Council on Monday night that the new hourly 521 route will run along a very similar route to the old 511 bus, but it will not cover the sheltered accommodation at Jubilee Court.

And as the new route will be served by a full-size bus instead of the 16-seater vehicle owned by Hact, it will not be able to get into the hospital grounds to drop off elderly or infirm passengers for medical appointments or be able to drop passengers off at the Rainbow supermarket.

Town council chairman Janet Wright said: “This option doesn't equate to the service that we're getting at the moment. We're not happy - they have taken a community service and made it into a commercial route.”

At the moment the 511 carries about 85 people a day on the four days a week it operates and also takes people to British Legion and Lions Club events on a subsidy of £64 a day.

Tony Goldson, Hact company secretary, said: “Our service is very specific and helps to get people out into the community to do the things that we would take for granted and do in a car. Hact ensures that these people are kept as mobile and active as possible, they'll be marooned in their homes without it.”

Passengers who cannot walk to a bus stop to catch the new service from April 6 will be able to pay for the Pathfinder, a dial-a-ride bus provided by the county council, to pick them up so that they can then catch the 521, but Mr Goldson said this will be completely impractical for some of the older users.

Town councillor Ezra Leverrett said: “The route served at the moment by Hact is unique and was set up when they looked at the specific needs of our population. The service has worked very well and it's not something we want to lose.”

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