PASSENGERS in villages look set to be stranded if a council axes subsidies for rural bus services on evenings and Sundays.
Bus campaigners John Cairns, of Wingate, and Durham county councillor Brian Wilson, of Thornley, have hit out at planned transport cuts which will affect their areas as Durham County Council bids to save 1.3m of its 4.5m transport budget.
Mr Cairns, who is chairman of the East Durham Citizens' Panel, says people in Wingate will be "cut off" on Sundays.
There will be services running until around 8pm on weekday evenings, including the 22 Arriva Durham to Hartlepool bus, which terminates in Hartlepool at 8.20pm and in Durham at 7.20pm. But subsidised services will not run at all on Sundays.
He said: "It's a sign of the times.
"If we are not going to have a service on a Sunday anywhere out of Wingate, we can't get out of our village and Wingate will be isolated.
"Obviously I am concerned because people won't be able to get from A to B."
But Mr Cairns said he was hopeful that the re-instatement in Wingate of the 21A Arriva service between Stockton and Sunderland later this month would soften the blow.
Coun Wilson, an independent councillor, said the changes would affect "every aspect of people's lives", from healthcare needs, work and education to visiting family and social activities.
He said: "I was talking to a young girl who finishes work at Argos, in Durham, at 9pm but won't be able to get home to Thornley.
"She was flabbergasted.
"She said she'd have to get her grandfather to pick her up. But why should he?"
Coun Wilson, who uses the bus to get to meetings at council headquarters in Durham, added: "These changes mean we are going to be third-class citizens.
"I just think cutbacks shouldn't interfere in depleting the ways people who don't have cars can get to various venues.
"We are going back to the days of horses and carts."
He also expressed concerns at small number of people surveyed during a council-run consultation exercise – 268 – into the changes out of a population of more than 600,000.
Coun Neil Foster, cabinet member for regeneration and economic development, blamed major reductions in Government grant funding for the "tough decision" and added: "We are seeking to maintain our support for daytime services, continue to offer more limited subsidy to certain key evening services and withdraw our financial support for Sunday services altogether."
Arriva North East, which runs 20 of the subsidised services, said it was extremely unlikely it would be able to continue the services without subsidy.
The council will make final decisions next month, with changes expected from April 17.
PROPOSED changes to subsidised bus services in east Durham:
22 Hartlepool - Durham: Withdraw subsidies for Sunday services and late Monday to Saturday evening services;
24A Durham - Hartlepool: Withdraw subsidies for Sunday services;
26 Peterlee - Trimdon Station: Withdraw all subsidies;
33 Chilton - Hartlepool: Withdraw subsidies for Sunday services and after 8pm on Monday to Saturday;
55A Durham to Sedgefield: Withdraw subsidies for Sunday services and Cassop to Sedgefield section after 8pm Monday to Saturday;
239 Sedgefield - Easington Village: Withdraw subsidies for Sunday services and revisions after 8pm Monday to Saturday.
GO NORTH EAST
202 Peterlee - Murton - Dalton Park - Sunderland: Withdraw subsidies on Sundays and after 8pm Monday to Saturday;
206 Peterlee - Station Town - Hutton Henry: Withdraw subsidies on Sundays and after 8pm Monday to Saturday;
211 Peterlee - Wingate - Middlesbrough: Withdraw all subsidies.
969 Wingate - Spennymoor: Review service.
213/214 Brackenhill (Peterlee) taxibus: Reduce net cost;
214 Easington Lane - Brackenhill: Review usage/reduce net cost.
FERRYHILL VILLAGE TRAVEL
952 Trimdon Colliery - Stillington Darchem: Reduce net cost.