Cuts to bus services in the Lancaster district are having a big impact on people’s day to day lives.
NICK LAKIN reports...
A pensioner has resorted to hitch-hiking because of cuts to bus services in his village, claiming Lancaster district residents have been “totally abandoned”.
Duncan Foster, 66, from Whittington, dons a reflective vest with the words “lift please - no buses” stamped on it, and sets off walking to Kirkby Lonsdale - three miles down the road.
He hopes that a kind-hearted driver will pick him up along the way.
Duncan, like many others across the district who rely on public transport to get about, says savage cuts to bus services are affecting his quality of life.
Lancashire County Council pulled the plug on subsidies paid to bus companies in April, saving taxpayers a total of £7.5m a year.
I understand that there are financial reasons for the cuts, but I wonder if the social implications have been thought through thoroughly, or even at all.
When the idea was first mooted, concern was raised that those living in rural areas would become completely isolated.
But it’s not just people in the outlying villages that are struggling.
In Lancaster, Ros Wilson, who lives on the Marsh, has collected a 200 signature petition calling for the reinstatement of buses on Sundays and Bank Holidays and in the evenings.
On the Vale, Trevor Curnow says some of his elderly neighbours have now been completely cut off in the evenings and on Sundays.
Cat Smith, Labour MP for Lancaster and Fleetwood and David Morris, Conservative MP for Morecambe and Lunesdale, agree that the cuts to bus services are wrong, while Jim Davies, chair of the Lancaster Bus Users Group says funding needs to be restored as soon as possible to undo the harm the cuts have already caused.
He said: “The reduction in funding for buses has led to many service cuts that have had a serious effect on people’s lives.
“Some rural communities have been left without any service whatsoever and even in the urban areas such as Lancaster, Morecambe and Heysham many people now have no evening or Sunday buses.
“Many who previously relied on these buses have been left with severely restricted mobility, unable to visit friends and relatives or participate in the social life of the district, whilst some have even been unable to reach places of employment.
“We understand the county council is responding to severe cuts in its own grant from central government and we call on politicians at local and national level to restore funding for buses as soon as possible to undo the harm that has been done.”
Back in Whittington, Duncan is also calling for the reinstatement of services.
He said: “We’ve got no amenities here. There’s no shop or pub, and now there’s no transport.
“The people that use the bus are completely dependant on it. An elderly chap has had to move out of Whittington, because he couldn’t get to the hospital.
“There’s already four cottages up for sale, and when I asked the estate agent about putting mine on the market, she told me she can’t sell the others because there’s no public transport.
“The 3.45pm is the only bus of the day into Lancaster and there’s nothing out of Kirkby Lonsdale after 5.15pm.
“One lady is more or less under house arrest, because she doesn’t drive. The thing we miss the most is the social side of things. A bus going into Kirkby Lonsdale in the evening and bringing us back.
“I think that the last bus at least should be reinstated, it was always busy. That would allow people to go into Lancaster in the evening.
“I’ve made a reflective jacket that says ‘lift please - no buses’, which I wear when I’m walking along the main road into Kirkby Lonsdale.
“Life used to be pretty good, but now people must just be stopping indoors. In my opinion, we’ve been totally abandoned.”
County Coun John Fillis, cabinet member for highways and transport, said parish councils in the county are discussing options for additional bus services with bus companies. He said: “Most areas have continued to receive a local bus service, albeit at different times, since the changes in April.
“We regularly liaise with the Lancaster Bus User’s group and have a good working relationship with them.
“Parish councils are interested in considering different options for additional bus services in their area and are discussing these directly with the local bus companies. Our officers facilitate and provide advice at these meetings.
“Parishes and community groups also have the option to have a vehicle supplied to them, by the county council, to run their own local bus services. We are currently looking at ways that we can support these groups to enable them to develop their plans.”
Mr Morris, whose Morecambe and Lunesdale seat covers Whittington, said: “County are getting £2.9bn to spend between now and 2020 from central government and currently have £325m in reserves.
“The money is there to allow high quality services to be delivered, and rural buses are a vital service.
“Meanwhile the council are wasting millions on a management consultancy report to tell them how badly they are managing the county’s finances, this wasted money could have kept our county’s rural bus services running and kept library buildings open for many years.”
Ms Smith said Lancashire County Council needs to have more control over the way buses are operated in the area, with profitable services being used to subsidise much needed, but less well used routes and times.
She said: “We need to be able to decide local routes, bear down on fares, drive improvements in services, and bring together trains and buses into a single network with smart ticketing, just like London’s integrated system, which is well used.
“Instead, the government gives our council none of these powers and instead, they have slashed the grant they get by over 60 per cent since 2010.
“It’s an outrage that our council is being starved of support, as outlined by the PWC report from Lancashire County Council this week.
“The accounts from Lancaster residents, from the Vale estate to the Marsh estate, are the human face of government cuts.
“So whilst I am calling for adequate funding from government for our council, from television studios to the House of Commons chamber, the silence from our local Conservative politicians is deafening.”
FEARS FOR PENSIONERS WHO HAVE STOPPED GOING OUT
Ros Wilson, who lives on the Marsh said: “My use of the bus is important to me as after losing my husband last year and not being able to drive I had to give his car to my daughter.
“I use public transport every morning to go to work and most afternoons/evenings coming home.
“I used to visit friends at night and now the last bus is at 7.10pm so if I go out it has to be a taxi home especially now that the dark nights are returning as I want to keep myself safe.
“On Sundays I like to go somewhere to spend time with my grandkids but there are no buses so we have to walk into town but the weather has been so wet recently.
“On my return from a weekend in Blackpool with my family from Scotland I got the bus back to Lancaster but as it was a bank holiday there was no bus to take me down to Willow Lane so had to pay extra fares (one and a half times more) for a taxi as that was the rate they set. I had a heavy case and bags so couldn’t walk and my daughter wasn’t available. What comes up all the time is how people feel so isolated especially on bank holiday weekends.”
Trevor Curnow, 63, who lives in Hammerton Hall Close, Vale, said: “Shakespeare Road has a disproportionately high number of residents who are elderly or disabled or both.
“Our bus service, the number 7, has been significantly reduced by the cuts.
“We have gone from four an hour to three an hour during the day, which is no big deal.
“But the last bus from town Monday to Saturday is now 18.20 (used to be 23.06) and there are no buses on a Sunday at all. And this is not a rural route, it is a city route. It has probably affected me less than a lot of other people here because I am relatively fit and don’t mind a half hour walk into or from town if the weather is nice, although obviously it often isn’t.
“But if it is wet, then I try to make sure I get the last bus back. But I have older neighbours who would not be able to walk that distance whatever the weather, and they are now effectively cut off from town on evenings and Sundays.
“I know some people who have just stopped going to any events or activities that are on in the evenings, and I have a friend who lives out of town who is now looking to move back into town because he struggles to get the last bus home after he has finished work.
“I understand that there are financial reasons for the cuts, but I wonder if the social implications have been thought through thoroughly, or even at all.”