THE DEVASTATION of plans to slash bus routes across Worcestershire can today be laid bare - with schools, colleges, hospitals, businesses and vulnerable people pleading for a reprieve.
Your Worcester News has obtained a copy of a dossier detailing some of the 8,500 responses on county council proposals to axe an entire £3 million transport subsidy from September, hitting 97 services.
- 15 separate petitions have been handed to County Hall in recent weeks containing 6,059 signatures
- Of the 8,500 general comments, 2,000 of them cited fears over being 'isolated from the rest of society' while 1,500 were concerned about the impact on getting to school or college
- 65 per cent said they would be "very likely or quite likely" to have no alternative means of travel if their bus is withdrawn
- 49 per cent of respondents said they would rather pay more than see a service chopped completely, with a majority of those saying they would accept up to 50p extra per trip
- Nine schools or colleges opposed it, including Worcester Sixth Form College, calling it "disastrous" and "perverse"
- Nine bus operators got involved, calling it "unjust", saying would lead to "severe repercussions" for society and insisting some customers are "totally reliant" on public transport to get around
- The Acute Hospitals NHS Trust say it will have an "adverse affect on patients and staff" at Worcestershire Royal, the Alex and Kidderminster Hospital
- The Federation of Small Businesses, Mencap, the Dyslexia Association and scores of other campaign bodies, community groups, parish councils and organisations have also hit out
- All six MPs took part in it, saying they find it "unfair" the entire £3 million subsidy is set to go Your Worcester News can now reveal no decisions are likely to be made on the cuts until around June.
The council says it needs time to digest the feedback and work on solutions with operators, saying they "may be" a possibility some can be saved by charging higher fares or altering routes.
The council has 330 pages of responses and has produced a 79-page summary which has been circulated to politicians.
The contents were debated during a meeting of the economy, environment and communities panel, where officers rejected questioning around "scrapping" the cuts given the public concern.
Councillor Ken Pollock, who chairs the panel, said: "When you look at these responses and how convincing it is, do you think 'let's go back to cabinet and say let's scrap the whole idea, it's not worth it'?"
Peter Blake, head of integrated transport, said the huge volume of responses were a "testimony to the community".
"What we now need to do is digest this information and come forward with a series of recommendations," he said.
"We've had a very significant response and are still working through the analysis of that."
He said the negative responses were "not a surprise" given most people taking part were bus users.
The report will be discussed by the Conservative cabinet today, but no decisions will be made until the summer.
The routes under threat make up 20 per cent of the total network.
Of the 8,497 responses 61 per cent were from women, and the biggest age group represented was 65 to 80, 34 per cent of the total.
But the spread covered all ages - 20 per cent were 45-64, 19 per cent under 16 and 14 per cent 16-24.
What the schools and colleges said
- Hanley Castle High School said it would "prove disastrous and a false economy", adding it would impact severely on pupil's choices of where to study post-16
- Worcester Sixth Form College said it would "undermine the whole bus network", and that students affected would "no longer come to college" or travel by car, worsening congestion and causing parking problems
- Blessed Edward Oldcorne Catholic College said they have "grave concerns" about eight routes carrying 400 pupils and are "dismayed"
- Kidderminster College called it "perverse" and cited four services used by pupils with learning difficulties and disabilities
What the public said
- Thousands of comments were made, published anonymously, with one saying "a civilised society provides rural services which are never going to be commercially viable"
- Another resident said "the impact is scary", saying she would have to quit her job - A fellow commenter said they "would have to move house, there would be no way of visiting family and friends, I would be a prisoner in my own home"
- Other remarks included "loneliness is a killer", buses are "essential" to them, and they fear rural isolation
What bus companies said
- Whittle Coach and Bus said "the effect will be greatest on most vulnerable and most isolated residents", calling it "life changing"
- Henshaw's Travel said it would have "a devastating impact all round", revealing "many customers are elderly and have no other means of transport", and insisted it would rather run a service less frequently than not at all
-Diamond Bus Company said it would "leave people isolated" and "hit the poor, the pensioner, children and the disabled"
-First Group, Worcester's main provider, said it could prevent the company investing in the future
What Worcestershire's hospitals said
- The Acute Hospitals NHS Trust said "many patients at our three hospitals" rely on the buses to get to appointments or visit family and friends
- It says if direct services between Worcestershire Royal and the Alex is reduced it will have "an adverse affect" on staff and patients
- It says patients "regularly travel" between the two sites, especially to use urology services
- It has pleaded with the council to take the current review of acute hospital servives into account when making final decisions
What some other bodies said
- Mencap say it will "limit the ability of those with learning difficulties to move towards greater independence"
- Prostate Cancer Support Group it would "create hardship" as cancer patients "usally" use buses due to their condition
- The North Star Foundation, which works with disabled people, said the services are "critical" to them - The Mascular Society, which deals with blind and partially sighted people, says the buses in Worcestershire are "invaluable"