Bus campaigners in Fleet have issued a direct challenge to Hampshire’s county councillors to experience for themselves the difficulties faced following widespread cuts.
Fleet resident Stephanie Weller, who uses a wheelchair, recently met up with Sarah Horton, founder of the Don’t Cut Buses in Fleet and Church Crookham campaign group, for what should be a routine journey to Frimley Park Hospital.
However, cuts of £1.5m by Hampshire County Council and bus operator Stagecoach to its number 30, 31, 77 and 72 routes have, say campaigners, turned a journey that used to take less than an hour into a four-hour slog.
Ms Weller and Mrs Horton decided to video their journey to Frimley Park to highlight the difficulties now faced by thousands of people who depend on public transport to get to and from their local hospital and other vital amenities.
“I rely on wheelchair accessible buses to get to Frimley Park Hospital regularly,” said Ms Weller. “Since the council cut the bus funding, my life has become much harder.
“Just getting to Fleet from my home in Pondtail is now an ordeal as the 77 bus was cut in January. I now have to get a pre-booked taxi to Fleet, then the number 72 to Farnborough and then, if I’m lucky, I get the number 2 bus to Frimley Park Hospital.
“This journey is now a complete nightmare and it’s really having an impact.”
Ms Weller added she wanted to directly challenge county council leader Roy Perry and Councillor Seán Woodward, the executive member for transport, to accompany her on her ‘nightmare journey’ and see just what it is like for themselves.
The pair’s efforts to highlight the issue have this week been backed by the Campaign for Better Transport, with its campaigner, Martin Abrams, joining them on their journey.
“Experiences like Stephanie’s are being repeated all over the country as people see their bus services being withdrawn in the face of budget cuts,” he said.
“Council leaders in Hampshire need to recognise the importance of buses to people, communities and the local economy.
“Our Bus Rescue Mission is about helping people like Stephanie and Sarah fight for better public transport in their area, so we urge people to lend their support to help us ensure that these problems don’t keep happening.”
Mrs Horton added that the seven-mile journey had been a ‘huge eye-opener’ for her, one that now means Ms Weller has to leave her home some four hours before an appointment.
The county council signed off a raft of funding cuts to bus services in February, which has meant the termination of links between Fleet and Aldershot.
The council said the ‘difficult decision’ came after significant reductions in government funding for public transport and stressed that the authority had undertaken a wide-ranging consultation, involving more than 3,000 people and the best part of 200 organisations.