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Melksham pensioners’ anger at plans to restrict “vital lifeline”

Chris Duignan and Peter Incledon

Chris Duignan and Peter Incledon

PENSIONERS in Melksham have voiced their concerns about proposed changes to bus services that will mean they are restricted on when they can travel. 

Currently pensioners who are in receipt of a bus pass are able to use it on any bus at any time of day. However, Wiltshire Council has announced plans to restrict the use of the bus passes to either after 9.00am or after 9.30am, a decision which local pensioners feel will severely impact their quality of life and restrict a “vital lifeline” for many.

Council chiefs are making the decision to restrict the service which benefits 86,000 pensioners and disabled people countywide as they say they can’t afford the £4.6million bill for their free bus passes, and that everyone should have to pay to travel in the mornings from now on.

The change is likely to be brought in from April 2015 and Wiltshire Council is currently carrying out a consultation on what time the restricted travel should start from. The council is suggesting restricting the bus passes to either only after 9.00am, which could save up to £133,000 a year, or to after 9.30am, which might save £300,000.

The changes to the service whether it be from 9.00am or 9.30am will have a major impact on people’s lives according to two users of the Wiltshire bus pass. Peter  Incledon from Melksham said, “I think it is a huge mistake to not allow pensioners and disabled people to use the bus when they like. I use the bus almost everyday and I know that using at that time in the morning is vital for many people who need to make doctors or hospital appointments. here in Melksham if you call the doctors surgery in the morning you have no chance of a same-day appointment, you have to go to the surgery itself before 8.30am so the changes will have a massive impact.

“For many pensioners taking their grandchildren to school, it would become an issue too and I don’t see the benefit.”

Chris Duignan another regular user of buses agreed. He said, “The bus network is vital for many people in Wiltshire. The county is so vast and rural that having use of a bus is so important. If the service is restricted I know many pensioners will become secluded and it will affect them massively.

“I use busses early in the morning and it is not like they are busy, so I don’t see the issue with letting pensioners and disabled people use them.”

John Thomson, Wiltshire Council cabinet member for transport said, “We will continue to fund free travel for the elderly and disabled but we want people to tell us when they use the free transport and what options would work best for them so we can make savings while ensuring people can enjoy the free travel and go about their business.”

Wiltshire Council has also highlighted that most neighbouring authorities from Dorset to Bath say free passes can only be used after the morning rush hour commute is over.

Any changes would not come into effect until the new financial year. The consultation is available at www.wiltshire.gov.uk/council/consultations.htm  and will run until Friday 26th September.

 Bus route withdrawn

Bus route 236 which serves Bowerhill is to be withdrawn.

This has been a commercial service operated by First, with a service from Bowerhill to Trowbridge in the  morning, and return services in the late afternoon. Bus travellers to Trowbridge will now need to change in the centre of Melksham at all times of day, taking service X72, 271, 272 or the Rail Link bus into the town, and leaving from the Market Place on services 234 or X34 for Trowbridge.

  Other Bowerhill bus services remain unaltered.

272 (Monday to Saturday, daytime) runs a loop around Bowerhill calling at Mallory Place, Falcon way, Mitchell Drive and Halifax Road, then goes to Melksham town centre and Bath.

271 and X72 run through Bowerhill on their way from Bath and Melksham town centre to Devizes. The X72 runs during the day on Monday to Saturday, and the 271 runs evenings and Sundays.

The Melksham Rail Link bus runs from Falcon Way, Mitchell Drive and Halifax Road to the train station at 06:50 and 07:20 to connect with trains to Chippenham and Swindon. The bus returns from the station at 18:05, 18:50 and 19:20.