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Celebration and uncertainty for "lifeline" transport service

By Blackmore Vale Magazine  |  Posted: November 16, 2012

CAT Bus board member Hazel Merrifield (right) with driver Tony and Eggleton and service users Dorothy Austin-Baker, Kathy Borland, Risa Walsingham and the new minibus

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A SERVICE that provides transport to people in isolated areas has just celebrated its tenth anniversary with the acquisition of a new minibus but its future remains uncertain.

South Somerset Community Accessible Transport, known locally as CAT Bus, was set up by South Somerset District Council in 2002 after a survey revealed alarming gaps in the public transport network. Since then, the charity has grown into a valued service with a fleet of four fully accessible minibuses and a team of dedicated drivers, some of whom use their own cars.

The Cat Bus provides door to door transport for elderly and disabled people in Castle Cary, Bruton, Wincanton and the surrounding area. Journeys include trips to shops and doctors as well as social gatherings.

The new £40,000 minibus is fully accessible with a tail lift for wheelchairs so all members of the community have the opportunity to travel and access local amenities.

Cathy Borland, who uses the CAT Bus said: "The bus is an absolute lifeline to us, and we would all be so lost without it.

"It is always great to see the jolly drivers. They are brilliant and even unload our shopping."

CAT Bus board member Hazel Merrifield added: "This service makes a tremendous difference to people who would be stuck in their homes without it. It also enriches their social lives and helps them to make friends."

Despite its success and popularity, the charity faces a challenging future following Somerset County Council's decision to award the Wincanton area Slinky Bus contract to Yeovil based charity SSVCA.

Tim Carroll, chairman of the CAT Bus board, said the loss of the contract would result in a significant reduction to the charity's income.

"Although we are celebrating ten very successful years of providing community transport to the residents of Wincanton and the local area, the future contains uncertainties. We now have a crazy situation of two charities competing for community bus passengers.

"In these times of library closures, abolition of any funding for youth clubs and financial cuts across its other services, I personally find it astounding that county council funding should be frittered away on this unnecessary and unwelcome contract."

Mr Carroll said the best thing people can do to support the service is to continue to use it.

"We are here to transport people and we need people to continue using us for just that," he added.

Report and picture by Mathew Manning

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