Praise for long-distance volunteers

DRIVERS from Beccles and Bungay travelled over 300,000 miles last year on community transport work, the annual meeting of the Beccles and Bungay Area Community Transport heard.

DRIVERS from Beccles and Bungay travelled over 300,000 miles last year on community transport work, the annual meeting of the Beccles and Bungay Area Community Transport heard.

And the volunteers making the trips came in for high praise from Waveney MP Bob Blizzard, who called them the “unsung heroes” of the community.

Office manager Debbie Blowers said volunteers had driven a total of 310,000 miles for the organisation in 2007, carrying in excess of 27,000 passengers. The Community Car Service despite showing a decrease in passenger numbers and miles, due to the reduction of funded runs, was still very busy.

She said volunteer drivers had this year faced increased fuel costs, which were hitting pockets hard, and despite Suffolk County Council increasing the mileage rate to 39 pence per mile from next month, it would have to be closely monitored to ensure volunteers are not out of pocket.

The wheelchair accessible vehicle was driven over 14,000 miles throughout 2007 carrying 849 passengers, and volunteers were thanked for their time and effort in doing so. The Community Minibus had operated a two day a week dial-a-ride service throughout Beccles and Bungay and while Thursdays was still quiet, the Friday service continued to steadily increase, Mrs Blowers said.

Other organisations, such as Bungay Town FC, were using the minibus for trips, and some local residential homes also used it, “but it would be good to see the bus utilised more by local groups and organisations, particularly at the weekends.”

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Chairman, Arthur Fisher reported another successful year with thanks to all concerned and a special mention was made of the grants being made from Bungay Surgery and The Friends of Beccles Hospital to enable transport for hospital appointments to be made at reduced rates for their respective surgery patients.

Members of the audience paid tribute to the service provided, with Katy Wakely, from Bungay, a regular user saying: “Without Community Transport I would feel totally shut in - but I always know community transport is here to help. I've a lot of living still to do and I hope that Community Transport will continue to be a part of that living.”

Mr Blizzard congratulated BACT for their excellent work in developing community transport in the Beccles and Bungay area.

He said: “The local volunteers are unsung heroes. Through their efforts many older and disabled people in rural areas have increased mobility and access to services.”

He explained how the government's Local Transport Bill aimed to support the further development of the community transport sector by relaxing regulations so that large buses could be used to provide community transport services. It also removed the current prohibition on drivers of such services from being paid.

“The measures in the Local Transport Bill will make it much easier for community transport initiatives like the BACT to operate successfully. By relaxing the rules on community bus services, these dial-a-ride schemes will be able to expand more easily and provide more and more people with access to regular and affordable local transport,” he said.

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