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The leader of Hampshire County Council (HCC) has agreed to accompany a wheelchair-bound Fleet resident on her ‘nightmare’ journey to and from hospital following widespread bus cuts in north east Hampshire.
Stephanie Weller, who lives in Pondtail Road, Fleet, last week challenged HCC leader, Cllr Roy Perry, and executive member for transport, Cllr Seán Woodward, to come along for the ride and see the effects of the £1.5 million cuts for themselves.
Ms Weller’s challenge was supported by the Campaign for Better Transport and the Don’t Cut Buses in Fleet and Church Crookham campaign group after the team videoed the journey last Monday (April 13).
The campaigners say cuts by HCC and bus operator Stagecoach to its number 30, 31, 77 and 72 routes have turned a one-hour journey into a four-hour ‘nightmare’.
Ms Weller’s route now sees her take a pre-booked taxi into the town centre to catch the new number 72 route to Farnborough before getting the No. 2 service to Frimley Park – ‘if she’s lucky’.
“I rely on wheelchair accessible buses to get to Frimley Park hospital regularly,” she said. “My journey’s now a complete nightmare. It’s really having an impact.”
Sarah Horton, founder of the Don’t Cut Buses in Fleet and Church Crookham group, said Ms Weller and other disabled people reliant on public transport faced a number additional headaches as a result of the cuts.
She stressed volunteer car service Fleet Communicare operated a no-wheelchair-carrying policy, while Fleet Link buses were frequently fully booked up to a week in advance.
Mrs Horton added the timings of the various community transport schemes, which have stepped up to replace county council bus routes, rarely dovetailed with the council services and timetables.
Cllr Perry, however, told the News & Mail this week he would be ‘very happy’ to accompany Ms Weller to see if the services currently being provided live up to his expectations.
“My twin brother spent the last year of his life confined to a wheelchair so I’m personally very sympathetic to wheelchair users,” he said.
Both Cllr Perry and Cllr Woodward otherwise issued the same response after taking advice from HCC officers, stressing the council had to find £1.5 million from its public and community transport budget after government funding was halved.
An HCC spokesman said the council had consulted widely, receiving more than 3,000 responses, before making its decision.
They explained funding was cut for the through service between Fleet and Frimley Park after finding, on average, only two passengers alighted at the hospital per trip, with the service costing £100,000 a year to operate.
The spokesman added the council was supporting Fleet Link, the Fleet and Church Crookham taxi-share and the Fleet and Church Crookham Good Neighbour Car Scheme in spite of the cuts.
“The range of services is designed to meet the widest range of needs within the budget available and we are always open to suggestions and offers of local partnership,” he added.