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VULNERABLE community bus users in Bracknell Forest fear they could be left "trapped in their homes" after one provider of the service was forced to close down.

Hundreds of older people across the Bracknell district use the mini-bus services provided by Forest Line and Keep Mobile to get out and about to social events and appointments, and for many, it is a lifeline to the outside world.

The Times reported last month that following a borough-council decision to put the service out to tender to one company, Keep Mobile won the tender after Forest Line declined to submit an application.

Now Forest Line has been forced to close — it will cease operating on January 27 — and users say that is a "great pity".

Ron Crew, spokesperson for Bracknell Forest Senior Citizens Forum said: "It is a very great pity that Forest Line is closing and that they did not even put in a bid.

"All we can do now is seek assurances that our members will be looked after.

"We would hate to see people trapped in their homes. We would have hoped that both organisations could have operated together but that won't happen. Now we hope that Keep Mobile can provide the service and no-one is left stranded."

However some users say that they have already experienced problems even before the shake-up — and they fear things may get worse.

A spokesperson for one elderly persons' luncheon club, who did not wish to be identified, said: "We have been experiencing difficulties where they weren't able to get us there on time or didn't turn up.

"Our Christmas luncheon was starting at 9am but nobody arrived. We were given some odd excuses by the drivers like they thought the meeting had been cancelled. They eventually arrived at midday, three hours late, which meant the members didn't have much time there.

"The same happened at our last meeting when nobody arrived and we were given similar excuses. Up to that point things had been okay, although they had been picking people up okay but getting to the club late.

"Perhaps they have too many jobs to cope with. I don't know if the changeover will make things worse but I hope things iron themselves out."

Keep Mobile declined to comment on the incidents, but representatives from the company were due to meet club members today (Wednesday) to resolve the issue.

Meanwhile, Cllr Ed Glasson, Labour's social affairs spokesman, said the borough council should have consulted users before putting the service out to tender in the first place.

He said: "There should have been a consultation a year ago — the council's executive did not talk to enough people.

"I am aware of problems already, but I am just hoping that they are not too significant. However I am fearful and dubious about the specifications of the service being provided."

A spokesman for the borough council insisted, however, that the purpose of the new arrangements was to "ensure consistency over the longer term and arrive at a more streamlined service", and that there would "definitely be no impact on service levels."

The spokesman added that representatives of the council would be meeting users to discuss any concerns raised, although a date has not yet been fixed.

Meanwhile protestors and clubs using the service will meet tomorrow (Thursday) to discuss the situation and to evaluate if overall, their needs are being met.

Sue Telfer of Bracknell Forest Voluntary Action, said the meeting was aimed at discussing people's concerns and these would later be presented to the council.

The meeting takes place at the Downside Resource Centre, Wildridings Road, tomorrow at 2pm.


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