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Isolation fears over bus service cuts for Owslebury
The shoppers’ bus service — the 63 — will be reduced from five to just three days a week, while the 63A service, which from September 23 will be run by Stardust Travel, will be exclusively a school bus, meaning pensioners cannot use it.
Philip Blair, managing director of Xelabus, which currently provides the service, said the contract was surrendered after his firm proposed a retiming of the buses that was rejected by Hampshire County Council.
Stagecoach subsequently won the new contract on the basis of a three-day-a-week service.
Stephen Harfield, 65, lives in Beech Grove and suffers from arthritis and osteoporosis. He said: “People are going to have to pay money for taxis or they’re going to be stuck.
“My wife came out of hospital last week and we had to get the bus to Badger Farm, then walk to Owslebury. It took us three hours.
“The service is getting worse all the time. And it’s not just for elderly people, but for younger people too who might want to come into Winchester at the weekends.”
The vice-chairman of Age UK Winchester, John Edwards, said: “For people in their 60s and 70s who can’t afford to run a car, any curtailment of bus services is going to be really, really difficult for them.
“Isolation is the key thing we try to address and curtailing bus services could really bring more isolation.”
Andrew Dyer, managing director of Stagecoach South, said his firm did bid for a five-day service.
“The county council took the option to review the time table and decided what they thought was socially necessary. It’s very common that the county will ask operators to bid on a number of options. I’m sure we did present a five-day-week option.”
At the time of going to press, the county council had not responded to requests for a comment.
But local city councillor, Laurence Ruffell, said: “As far as I know, Hampshire County Council are doing the best they can with what they’ve got.
“I would have thought that pensioners could organise their lives so that they do not have to use the bus on those days when it’s not running.”
But Owslebury Parish Council is seriously concerned by the move.
The clerk, Michael Cleary, said: “We are writing to the county council about it. For the frequent users who do not have cars, this will create considerable problems.
“We do not want Owslebury to become a village only for the rich and those who can afford cars and taxis.”
The parish has also told the county council that parents of students at Peter Symonds College are worried, since the school bus will only cater for The Westgate.
Colin Wright, from Hampshire County Council’s Passenger Transport Group, said in a letter to the parishes: “I am sorry again for the need for these further changes, but would assure you that we are working with both operators to ensure that transition to the new arrangements is as smooth as possible.”
On Monday many Westgate children were late for school as the bus got stuck in traffic caused by roadworks in Colden Common.
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