Lifeline buses back on the road

TAKING OVER: George Bell at the wheel of one of the buses. Picture by TOM COLLINS
TAKING OVER: George Bell at the wheel of one of the buses. Picture by TOM COLLINS

A COMMUNITY group has stepped in to save a doomed council bus service that could have left hundreds of elderly passengers stranded.

Residents across Hartlepool faced being left without transport when the decision was made by Hartlepool Borough Council to end the Dial-a-Ride service and save £200,000 as part of cut backs due to the Government’s Comprehensive Spending Review.

But the Manor West Centre has now joined forces with East Durham Communicare to offer a replacement door-to-door service from April 1, to coincide with the council’s scheme ending on March 31.

The centre will be putting part of their fleet of six buses to use under the banner of Manor West Community Transport, while the partner company will also provide vehicles.

The service will include specially qualified drivers and wheelchair access.

John Reid, from the Brierton Lane-based Manor West Centre, said: “We have got the capacity to do this, so we thought we would give it a go.

“The buses are sat doing nothing and are there for the community so this will enable them to get out and about.

“We are looking forward to taking this forward as best we can.”

The new scheme will cost more than the council’s at £4 per journey, rather than £2.50, each way.

Mr Reid said they have no choice but to increase the rate due to the high cost of running the buses, in particular the soaring price of fuel.

Mr Reid added: “We can not run it at a loss, which is why we have to charge £4. “The price of diesel is very high and we have to pay drivers. This is the only way we can operate it.

“We are a not-for-profit group, so any profits that we do happen to make will go back into the community.”

The scheme will operate on a membership basis, with users given cards to use the buses.

Those wanting to get on board will need to fill in an application form. Mr Reid is encouraging people to get in touch before the service becomes active so they are ready to take advantage of the first buses.

They will run from 9am-6pm from Monday to Saturday, and people can make bookings by ringing between 9am-12pm.

To book a Saturday or Monday journey, the centre will need to be notified on the Friday.

Mr Reid added: “This is just for the time being so we can see how we go.

“If it takes off, as we hope it does, we can look at things again and see if we can expand it.”

For more information or to register as a member, ring Julie Marshall at the Manor West Centre on (01429) 273123 or Communicare on (0191) 5872883.