Elderly and vulnerable 'would be lost' without valued community bus service
PUBLISHED: 12:00 27 April 2018
A community bus scheme for vulnerable people in Exmouth faces an uncertain future if it cannot raise vital funds.
Exmouth and District Community Transport Group’s ‘ring and ride’ service has been enabling local people around the town for more than 20 years.
But legislation and licensing changes mean the charity is facing financial challenges.
Betty Hart, 82, from Budleigh Salterton, started using the service after her husband’s death four years ago.
She said: “I think I would be a bit lost without it. I certainly wouldn’t get out and about as much as I do; I would be miserable and I’m not a miserable person.”
Health problems meant Mrs Hart was unable to lift her feet and climb steps for around 12 months.
But the service’s adapted minibus with wheelchair lift helped her to do ordinary things - like shopping - with independence.
The minibus has also played a vital role in transporting residents to Budleigh Salterton’s Health and Wellbeing Hub for the past three years.
However, the Government is currently consulting on licensing for community transport, after a commercial bus company challenged current UK guidance in the European courts.
As a result, community buses with more than nine seats would be subject to the same regulations as similar vehicles run for profit.
Community transport drivers would also have to have the same qualifications as professional drivers.
This would pose challenges for Exmouth’s ring and ride service, which many rely on for more than just practical support.
Mrs Hart said: “Some people get very bored because they don’t see anyone from one day to the next. They might have a carer that checks on them once a day, but they have no family that calls for them.
“They might have lost their eyesight, so can’t really see the TV and they might have lost their hearing so can’t listen to the radio.
“It’s nice to get on the bus and be independent; you make friends and, if they are not there, you wonder why and worry a bit.
“The pub trips are really fantastic – just to get out and about. It’s lovely to get out and see the green and to see the animals. You can’t really explain it, but it really is lovely.”
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Exmouth and District Community Transport Service was founded by East Devon District councillor Jill Elson, in 1990.
The service currently has a 16-seat community bus, with passenger lift and two smaller MPV vehicles, one of which also has a lift.
Even under current regulation, only drivers who passed their test before 1997 are automatically allowed to drive a minibus with 16 seats.
Cllr Elson said the charity would struggle to find the £2,000 needed to train each driver, or to buy two eight-seat vehicles, at around £45,000 each.
But despite these challenges, she said she was ‘passionate’ about keeping the service running.
“The severe risk is we will have people who are unable to use the bus and will be isolated in their own homes – and that I will not have,” said Cllr Elson.
“If they can’t walk to the bus stop, then they are not going to go out, so they will be socially isolated; they won’t be able to go out of their four walls.”
Fundraising is already under way to try and ensure the Exmouth and District Community Transport Service and its fares remain unchanged.
To find out more, or support the charity, visit www.exmouthringandride.org
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