Older people with bus passes say they are willing to pay for some of their fares in a bid to ensure they remain cost-effective to run.
That was one of the suggestions at last night’s (Monday’s) emotive public meeting in Melton on future public transport services.
Officials from Leicestershire County Council, which organised the meeting as part of a consultation into its strategy, painted a bleak picture of the future with £50million of cuts needing to be made by 2021 across its services to address funding shortfalls.
The meeting was told that County Hall was a ‘provider of last resort’ for bus services when commercial companies could no longer afford to run them due to low passenger numbers.
The council stepped in last week to offer 11th hour subsidies to the number 14 and 15 Melton town services which were to be axed from June 1 but they could only afford to provide cash for hourly journeys as opposed to the half-hour services previously enjoyed for a large part of the day.
Officials told a packed meeting at the Melton Council offices that several services were under threat of being closed, such as the 112 Melton to Oakham, the 23 and 25 Melton to Stathern/Nether Broughton and the 55 and 56 Melton to Grantham.
Nearly half of all passengers on subsidised services are retired people with bus passes and two of them said they would be prepared to pay towards their fares.
One told the meeting there should be a pilot scheme in Melton where people with bus passes paid around 50p each time they travelled to keep services viable.
And county councillor Alan Pearson said: “I’ve had loads of phone calls from people saying ‘I would be happy to give a quid to keep the buses running’.”
Ian Vears, assistant director of highways and transport, told the meeting that the council wanted to prioritise the needs of elderly, disabled and isolated people, and trips to locations for food shopping and primary healthcare, when it came to allocating dwindling funds to support future bus services.
He said: “Bus companies are struggling to run their businesses because not enough people are using them.
“They may decide they can’t afford to run certain services anymore, as happened recently with Centrebus and the 14 and 15 buses.
“We can step in and help where we can but we don’t have an infinite supply of money so we have to prioritise.”
There was some anger voiced by some at the meeting at the way the county council has managed cuts to bus services. Jean Bowes said there had been no communication with passengers about cuts to some services and a man at the meeting accused the council of ‘lacking empathy’ towards the needs and emotions of older people who rely on bus services.
It was announced that ‘Demand Responsive Transport’ services, where taxis or minibuses are run as a service if enough people pre-book it, will be trialled on Tuesdays and Thursdays from May 24 to June 12, for villages in Scalford, Eastwell and Eaton plus in Saxby, Garthorpe, Coston and Buckminster.
Residents have until midnight on June 13 to make a comment on the passenger transport consultation, either online at www.leicestershire.gov.uk/passenger-transport-consultation or by calling 0116 3050002 to request a paper document.