COMMUNITY leaders are celebrating after the future of a lifeline bus service serving stranded villagers was secured.
The number 65 service is now running three times a day on Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays between the villages of Elwick and Dalton Piercy and Hartlepool town centre.
Operator Pauls Travel can now charge fares and claim back concessionary passes after securing the relevant licences at the end of last month.
The new service replaces a successful three-month pilot scheme.
Village representatives have described the service as a “lifeline”, particularly for older residents.
Chris Banks, chairman of Elwick Parish Council, said: “This bus service is absolutely essential and we have people in the village who would otherwise be isolated.
“Using taxis can be very expensive and it can cost £10 for a round trip.
“This is a lifeline and makes it easier for them to get to doctors and dentists appointments, things we take for granted.”
Elwick and Dalton Piercy were hardest hit after bus companies axed daytime and evening services as a result of Hartlepool Borough Council removing its £287,000 supported bus services funding last year.
Bus companies said the routes were not viable to run, but it left villagers without public transport.
That led to Pauls Travel stepping in to provide a temporary pilot service using a 16-seater bus.
Around 200 people a week have been using the service and timetables for the new Number 65 are now displayed in bus stops along the route.
Meanwhile, Pauls Travel is looking for a larger bus and hopes to be able to run it six times a week.
Sue Little, 39, who runs Pauls Travel with husband Paul, said: “The service has been very popular and the community spirit on the bus is tremendous.
“A number of people have told me they feel like they are walking on fresh air because they have managed to make it to the chiropodist.
“It is little things like that.”
The bus, which starts at 9.15am from Elwick, has several stops including Egerton Road, Dunston Road, Victoria Road, Maritime Avenue, Schooner Court, Mainsforth Terrace and Burbank Street.
The last bus leaves town at 4.30pm.
Concessions can use their free passes while other passengers are charged £3 for a one-way trip from the villages into town, £2.50 from West Park and £1.50 from the marina.
The fare for children is £1.
Charging was not allowed during the pilot period so the bus had to be funded through donations.
Former councillor Hilary Thompson, an Elwick resident, said: “We are so very grateful to all those who supported us over this period, Elwick Parish Council, Dalton Piercy Parish Council, Housing Hartlepool, Three Rivers Housing and Burbank Street residents contributed substantial amounts as did Elwick Village residents as they consistently topped up the bucket in the village shop and came out in force for a coffee morning to raise funds for the bus.”
Mrs Thompson added: “It’s still a “use it or lose it” situation.
“We need to keep the numbers of passengers up so that the new Number 65 is a permanent feature on the roads.”