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Council finds savings to reduce impact of bus cuts in Dorset

By mmanning  |  Posted: December 11, 2013

By Nicci Brown



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DORSET County Council has revised its plans to cut subsidies to a number of rural bus services across the Blackmore Vale.

Extensive public consultation and negotiation with bus companies found that additional savings could be made to allow the retention of some weekday and Saturday services.

A public outcry followed the announcement that a large number of services to isolated areas would be cut in a bid to save £850,000 from the £2.8 million cost of subsidising them, following the withdrawal of central government funding for non-commercial bus routes.

Initial proposals of affected routes were drawn-up following a survey of passenger numbers, which found that many routes were under-used and not providing value for money for the Dorset council taxpayer.

A public consultation followed in the autumn, and the county council says that the many responses have helped shape the final decisions which will deliver £822,000 of the required savings.

Proposals agreed by Cabinet last week were designed to ensure that although the number of routes operated will still be reduced, no community that currently has a service will be left without one.

In addition, an extra £25,000 will be invested in community transport schemes such as dial-a-ride and neighbourhood cars which are hoped to replace buses in some areas.

Amongst key prioritised routes saved are the Saturday only 302A Blandford to Salisbury via Wimborne, Ferndown, West Moors and Verwood which, with an average loading of 19.8, is close to the 20 threshold deemed the minimum at which services should run.

Also retained is the Thursday only 34 and 35 service to Gillingham and Shaftesbury from surrounding villages, the Wednesday market day return journey to Dorchester via villages from Bovington and a Thursday only service into Wareham from outlying villages, together with a Friday only service from the Tarrants to Wimborne, Thursday only from Sixpenny Handley to Blandford, and twice weekly shopping service from Morden to Poole.

Saturday services to be retained include Crossways to Dorchester at a reduced level, Wareham to Dorchester, and Wincanton via surrounding villages to Shaftesbury.

But there is no reprieve for other Saturday services serving villages including the 59 Gillingham to Shaftesbury, 73 Cattistock Maiden Newton to Bridport, 74 Sherborne to Yeovil, 211 Poundbury to Weymouth, 212 Dorchester to Yeovil or 311 Blandford to Dorchester.

There is also no reprieve for other weekdays services, including the 388 Friday only Gillingham to Bournemouth via Sixpenny Handley, 311 Blandford to Dorchester, the 316 Thursday only Blandford to Wareham and 322 Milton Abbas to Poole via the Winterbornes, or the 387 Dorchester to Poole via Puddletown, Winterborne Kingston and Lytchett serving workers school pupils and shoppers.

There was no mention of the X8 Blandford to Poole service where withdrawal of all evening and Saturday services had been opposed by Blandford Town Council and the DT11 Transport Action Group.

Councillor Hilary Cox, the council's Cabinet member for environment, said: "We have taken note of the 1,200 responses and listened to all the comments. For example, we have worked with several communities to ensure that they will continue to have a Saturday service, even though this meant in some cases reducing services during the week.

"This review is not something we have undertaken lightly, and we fully understand that some bus services offer a lifeline to residents without transport of their own. Unlike many councils, we are still putting a substantial £2 million into supporting local bus services.

"And as part of this package we are also investing an additional £25,000 to help community transport schemes start up. There are already 60 voluntary car schemes, dial-a-rides and other community transport initiatives in existence across the county, helping overcome rural isolation."

Details of community transport schemes can be found at www.dorsetforyou.com/travel-dorset/bus/community-transport

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