A bus route that serves rural areas of Hartlepool is facing an uncertain future due to a £10,000 funding shortage.
Town mini bus firm Paul’s Travel has provided the 65 service for the last few years after villages, including Elwick and Dalton Piercy, were left stranded by bus cuts.
The operators are warning that the route is at risk due to running at a loss of about £10,000 a year.
Elwick Parish Council has supported the scheme financially in previous years but has awarded its contract to another provider, saying Pauls Travel did not meet all the criteria, including disabled access.
Sue Little, who runs Paul’s Travel with her husband Paul, wants to sell advertising space on the side of the bus to help generate income to keep the service going for her passengers, the vast majority of which are pensioners.
She said: “The most important thing at the end of the day is to try to keep that bus on.
“The funding shortage is a massive threat. There is a risk it may not be able to continue.”
Sue said the recent closure of Elwick village Post Office means residents are at even greater risk of becoming isolated. She added: “The residents have asked me to stay on. I have got applications in for funding from councillors in other wards.
“I want to do advertising on the side of the bus. If I can do that it will keep the service going for another year.
“It is for the residents. All I want to do is cover my costs. I don’t charge for my time.”
Sue said it costs £28,000 a year to run the route, which ferries passengers from the villages through Hartlepool to the town centre.
She currently receives £13,000 from the government in concessionary fares plus £5,200 from the Joseph Rowtree Trust, which owns Hartfields retirement complex in Hartlepool.
Last year, Hartlepool’s three councillors for Rural West ward, which includes Elwick, gave £3,000 from their ward budgets to support transport.
But as Paul’s Travel is a private firm, the cash had to go through Elwick Parish Council to be administered.
The bus company launched the number 65 service in Elwick and Dalton Piercy in 2012 after a three-month pilot scheme.
The two villages were hardest hit when bus companies axed daytime and evening services due to Hartlepool Borough Council removing its £287,000 supported bus services cash.