Campaigners fighting to preserve ‘vital’ public transport links in Fleet have welcomed a new addition to the town’s taxi-share route – but have warned the service remains little more than a ‘sticking plaster for a gaping wound’.
Earlier this year, dozens of people from across Hart district marched on county hall in Winchester to protest against Hampshire County Council (HCC) and bus operator Stagecoach’s plans to axe key bus services.
These included withdrawal of Stagecoach’s number 30, 31 and 77 bus routes, as well as part of the number 72 service, which in effect, saw services between Fleet and Aldershot cut entirely.
Since the decision in February, there have been efforts to plug the gap in the community, including the growth of a taxi-share service and also the Fleet Link ‘bookable’ service.
Fleet West Councillor Steve Forster said his fellow members and campaigners had been working hard to find suitable options for those ‘detrimentally affected’ by the cuts.
And last week, this led to the creation of a new taxi-share pick-up point between Ancells Park and Morrisons at Elvetham Heath, one which he said would serve a great number of elderly residents in particular.
Cllr Forster said the new stop at East Elvetham was the result of close work between officers at HCC, county councillor Sharyn Wheale for Fleet, and Elvetham resident and former councillor Sara Kinnell.
He explained the stop was a ‘lifeline’ for access to the town centre and onwards connections, that would bring relief to many residents in the town.
“I’m really pleased by how quickly and positively the council responded – albeit to a simple request, which required no complex timing or route changes, and which had no cost impact,” he said.
“I still believe that we need a commuter bus service, particularly with station car parking costing £8 a day.
“I will therefore continue campaigning for a commuter bus to cover Elvetham and Edenbrook and other outlying parts of Fleet and Church Crookham.“
Sarah Horton from the Don’t Cut Buses in Fleet and Church Crookham campaign group said while the group welcomed any additional transport options for residents, it was by no means a satisfactory solution.
“The taxi-share service was bought in when bus services were slashed across our area, following huge cuts in HCC bus subsidies this January,” she said.
“It seems ironic local councillors are having to fight their counterparts at county level to provide the most basic services.
“The taxi-share service and Fleet Link provide vital links into Fleet town centre for some of those in our community.
“But these services have been poorly promoted – people need to know about these options if they do not have access to a bus.
“They are a poor substitute for a bus service and are really just a sticking plaster for a gaping wound.
“Fleet and Church Crookham need buses to take people to work, to get students to college in good time and vitally to get people to the local hospitals.
“There are still no direct buses to Aldershot or to Frimley Park Hospital and the time it takes to get to either of these places means that people face long journeys that for some are impractical or even impossible.”