WI calls for cash help to reinstate bus services

Wickham Market

Wickham Market - Credit: Archant

Women’s Institute members in Wickham Market are urging bus chiefs to immediately reinstate the community’s hourly service – and calling on council officials to provide financial help.

Changes to timetables this autumn has seen public transport in the area cut, with off-peak services now reduced to two-hourly.

As well as services in Wickham Market and Framlingham being affected, the changes have also drawn complaints from passengers in Saxmundham, Leiston and Aldeburgh areas, where similar cuts have been made.

However, operators First Group say the communities do not justify hourly services – with just a handful of passengers on some buses.

Wickham Market WI has sent a strongly-worded letter to both the management of First Group, and James Finch, the county council’s cabinet member for transport, calling on councillors to step in and take action.

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The group says the hourly service is a lifeline for many and points to a Healthwatch Suffolk report which highlights a lack of public transport as one of the key reasons, “a significant barrier”, for people having poor access to health services and other services and amenities.

The report said lack of transport had a major impact on rural isolation.

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The letter also quotes WI members who have experienced first-hand the impact the cuts have had on themselves, and their friends and neighbours.

Alice Pennicott, president of the WI branch, said: “We are calling on councillors to do whatever they can to protect these services – a lifeline for some of its most vulnerable residents.

“Suffolk County Council promotes greener travel using buses as a way to get to work, to appointments or to socialise, and yet First Group have been allowed to cut the very routes that allow that to happen.

“We will continue to do everything we can to bring back at least an hourly route through Wickham Market, and we call on councillors at all levels to help us achieve that on behalf of those who most need it.”

The county council does already financially support PF Travel to run a Framlingham to Woodbridge service.

A spokesman for First Group said its off-peak services had been reduced to two-hourly because of “very low patronage”.

He said: “On average we have 50 customers a day on the route at Wickham Market which doesn’t justify an hourly service.”

A spokeswoman for Suffolk County Council said: “We are always mindful of such requests and we will consider all the options.

“Limited funding is available to Suffolk Passenger Transport which permits sponsorship of the 62 service operated by PF Travel.

“Suffolk County Council do not have a say as to how commercial bus operators run their services; our aim is to work with local communities and their transport needs where possible.”

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