A LIFELINE village bus service is set to be extended – but organisers are relying on support from the community.
Pauls Travel launched the free eight-week pilot scheme at the beginning of February to provide much-needed transport for the residents of Elwick and Dalton Piercy, who had been without public transport since last spring.
The pilot scheme was due to end at the start of April but it has been extended until the end of next month.
The extension will allow Pauls Travel time to secure the relevant licences to allow concessionary passes to be used as fares cannot be charged during the pilot. Residents living in the Burbank area have also been benefiting from the three-day-a-week service.
Independent councillor Hilary Thompson said: “As the service enters week six of the pilot I’m encouraged by the continuing support.
“Now that the cold weather seems to be over, there’s no excuse for staying at home when people can take advantage of this free service to town for shopping, visiting friends and family, going to the library, museum and art gallery.
“Pauls Travel was led to believe that the licence, which will enable concessionary passes to be used, could be fast-tracked. But this was not the case and we now must fund the bus until the end of April as fares cannot be charged during the pilot.
“We don’t have sponsorship for these extra few weeks and any donations should be sent to Elwick Parish Council, will be very gratefully received.”
Elwick Parish Council has booked the minibus for the duration of the pilot scheme. Chris Banks, chairman of Elwick Parish Council, said: “We are still looking for donations but the service has a funding base for the next six weeks. We are looking to run it by public contributions and the parish council is very much on the case.
“I believe the numbers have been down a bit last week but you have to take it over the whole trial to get a true picture.”
Mr Banks said the scheme was a good example of the Elwick community coming together and thanked residents for their support.
The Oxford Road-based firm stepped in after bus companies axed daytime and evening services when Hartlepool Borough Council removed its £287,000 supported bus services funding.
Bus companies said the routes were not viable to run and it left villagers without public transport.
Pauls Travel, which is run by Paul, 42, and Sue Little, is providing a 16-seater bus that picks passengers up three days a week, three times a day.
Mrs Little is applying to the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA) for the relevant licences to allow the business to claim money back for concessionary travel from the council.
Mrs Little, 39, from Seaton Carew, said: “I would encourage people to keep using this service. If they do not, it will be lost.”
The bus runs on Mondays, Thursday and Fridays and goes from the villages to Burbank Street via several stops in the town centre.
Anyone wishing to donate funding should call Coun Thompson on (01429) 272532.