More than 25 local residents attended a meeting of Gillingham Town Council this week to voice their anger over plans by South West Coaches to cut the bus route that serves Wyke and Peacemarsh.
The X2 service currently has stops in both parts of the town but the bus operator says these sections of the route are not sustainable financially.
They also claim that the Wyke and Peacemasrh sections have made the rest of the Gillingham, railway station and Shaftesbury service unreliable.
As a result South West Coaches are due to stop servicing Wyke and Peacemarsh in the coming weeks, possibly as soon as April.
However, residents who attended the full council meeting at the town hall on 24 February said that losing the service would be a major blow for people in those areas.
Resident Sharon Butler, who said she got involved in the issue after meeting local people who were deeply upset and ‘who broke down’ over the news, told councillors: ‘The residents who do use this service are mostly elderly, disabled, those with chronic illnesses ,or parents with small children. These are some of the most vulnerable people in our community and they rely on this service to take them from their homes to the shops in the High street, the chemist, the dentist, RiversMeet leisure centre, to the train station and to our two doctors surgeries, the Barn surgery and Peacemarsh health centre.’
She continued: ‘Many of the people who use and need this service are not mobile enough to even consider walking from Wyke or Peacemarsh to the centre of town. Many of them even struggle to walk to the bus stops but by doing so they get out of their homes and talk to other passengers, who may be the only people that they have spoken to for days. It’s vital for the mental health of these vulnerable residents to be able to do this, otherwise they are literally isolated in their own homes.
‘The only alternative transport that they have available to them is the use of taxis which is both expensive and often unavailable, due to being used as transport for children to and from school.’
Surrounded by fellow residents Sharon Butler added: ‘Gillingham Town Council must look into either subsidising this or providing alternative means of transport, perhaps using mini buses. We would urge the elected members of this council to take urgent action to ensure that the bus route continues to be available to some of the most vulnerable members of their constituencies.’
The residents rejected claims by South West Coaches that only six people use the coaches regularly; around 15 told councillors they often used the service.
Councillor Rupert Evill said he had not known such strength of feeling over a public transport issue in the town, describing the reaction of local people as ‘exceptional’.
Mayor Barry Von Clemens said that though the town council has no statutory role in transport issues he promised that the council would represent the ‘voice’ of local residents to Dorset Travel, part of Dorset Council, who are responsible for transport issues.
Councillors voted unanimously to write to Dorset Council pointing out the strength of feeling over the issue and the need for residents of Wyke and Peacemarsh to have a bus service.
Councillor Val Pothecary, who is a member of both the town council and Dorset Council also promised to look into the matter.
Meanwhile another local Dorset councillor, Councillor Belinda Ridout, has said she is to look at an alternative service.
She told Gillingham News: ‘ I personally see it as an opportunity to put in place a far more efficient and climate friendly service. An initial proposal is for community transport to pick up the unmet need, with a circular route for access to main facilities in the town, encompassing outlying villages which would otherwise be isolated.
‘I will be attending meetings over the coming weeks with Dorset Travel, Councillor Derek Beer – Dorset’s Public Transport Champion – and transport providers to work up a plan.’