Charity Community First says Hampshire County Council’s cuts to transport budget will be ‘devastating’ for vulnerable people
PLANS by Hampshire County Council to cut £800,000 funding for community transport will have a “devastating” impact on vulnerable people, says a charity.
Community First provides transport to medical appointments and a popular minibus service for shopping.
It says the proposed withdrawal of all funding for community transport services in the New Forest, such as its Connect Call & Go service, will leave people isolated and, in some cases, unable to leave their homes.
It has launched the Save our Community Transport Service campaign, urging customers to contact their county councillors and MPs to lobby against the cuts.
The charity’s chief executive Tim Houghton said: “Our customers cannot afford to travel independently, and in many cases, other options are simply unavailable, particularly for those with physical disabilities.
“There is a shortage of accessible vehicles in Hampshire and we're a lifeline to 4,200 groups that hire buses for regular social trips and outings.”
He added: “The indirect economic impact mustn't be underestimated.
“Town and neighbourhood centres are struggling and community transport services provide a lifeline for local shops and hospitality venues.
“Importantly, community transport services now play a key role in helping vulnerable people access health appointments.”
As reported in the A&T, the county council recently scrapped the popular New Forest Call and Go (Cango) service that was available to residents in New Milton, Bashley, Tiptoe, Sway, Hordle and Lymington.
The Cango service was a bookable route, which was available to pick up and drop off at chosen locations, as well as calling at regular stops.
After it was axed as part of efforts by the county council to find savings from its passenger transport budget, the new 120 route was introduced, which operates on a fixed timetable between Mondays and Saturdays.
Sway resident John Warden, who is the chairman of the Cango Users Forum, told the A&T he and his wife previously used the service twice a week.
He had been involved in saving the service in 2006 when it was under threat of cuts, and said users had organised a petition which had the backing of Sway Parish Council. Thousands of leaflets promoting it were also printed.
He said: “We made it work – we got the passenger numbers up and it has been a success ever since.”
John said numbers had only reduced in recent years due to people isolating through the pandemic, but felt the council had exaggerated the figures as an excuse to axe the service.
He explained the new fixed timetable meant some passengers had been unable to use the 120 route due to a lack of flexibility, while others had long periods of waiting around.
Some who had used it to see friends and relatives at Lymington Hospital were no longer able due to the set times of the bus journeys clashing with visiting times, he added.
John has made a formal complaint to Hampshire County Council and the Ombudsman Service about the changes.