A GROUP representing older people is concerned about Swindon Council’s plans to create a fully commercial bus network across the borough.
In October, cabinet approved the basic principles for creating a new local bus strategy, which will see the council and bus operators working together to ensure the network is sustainable in the long term.
Swindon Council commissioned the bus strategy because it says the network is facing increasing pressure from various issues.
These include the hike in fuel prices, Government cuts concessionary fares, the end of subsidies for some services, the council tax freeze and the move to cut a grant that provides a rebate on fuel duty for bus operators.
But the Swindon Older People’s Forum, a group sponsored by the charities Age UK and Community Service Volunteers, is concerned the drive for profitability could over-ride social needs, exacerbating loneliness among the elderly.
OAPS generally get free travel.
The organisation is also advocating the establishment of a borough-wide transport forum, where the views of all providers and users of transport services could be discussed.
This would help filling gaps, through the public, private, community or voluntary sectors.
Chairman David Brown said: “We want the current level of service maintained in an ideal world.
“It may be that, in political reality, they cannot do that.
“If that’s not possible then I think what the council and the community generally should think about is ‘How can we fill these gaps that the private bus companies cannot provide?’ “And without some sort of forum and way to debate things, it’s hard to do it.”
Mr Brown said if there were cuts, it could compound elderly people’s social isolation and loneliness, which would jeopardise Swindon Council’s ambition to manage care costs by encouraging independent living and re-ablement.
He said: “If you reduce transport options or the ability of people to get out and engage and get involved themselves in activities, by cutting their bus service, then it’s going to be counter-productive.”
The group was one of just 30 organisations or individuals to comment in the public consultation on the bus strategy.
Several members turned up to the Civic Offices on Wednesday night make their points during the Cabinet Open Forum.
Coun Keith Williams, the cabinet member for leisure and strategic transport, said: “One thing people don’t realise is around 95 per cent of our current network is commercial, so we’re talking about quite a small amount.
“The majority of the population is in the Swindon urban area.
“The impact of the move to a more commercial bus service would have more effect on the rural communities.
“What we’re looking at is link services, other forms of transport to make sure people get through to the bus network.”
Council leader Rod Bluh, said the authority recognised that isolation was not helpful in keeping people independent for longer and would try to avoid unintended consequences.