Rural bus users urge communities to make greater use of under-threat service between Sudbury and Hadleigh
Villagers desperate to ensure the long-term future of an under-threat bus route have urged their communities to make greater use of the service, stating hardship and isolation would increase without it.
The 112 Suffolk Norse bus, which travels two days a week from Hadleigh and Sudbury via eight villages, remains in limbo, having been earmarked to have its subsidy cut by Suffolk County Council, before receiving a temporary funding extension up to June 2020.
The council’s Conservative cabinet member for transport, Andrew Reid, said the extension will allow time for discussions between bus operators and communities to find a permanent solution that is financially viable.
A working party of regular bus users has now been formed and has started distributing newsletters around villages to raise more awareness of the service, with many saying they have no other means of transport into the towns.
Passengers gathered at Sudbury bus station on Thursday morning to air their concerns.
“We’re desperate to keep the bus,” said Little Waldingfield resident Christine Evans. “I know a lot of bus pass holders would be willing to pay if it would help keep it going.
“I used to drive, but I can’t afford to run a car any more. Paying for a taxi is just not feasible. The bus is very important to me.”
Karen Marshall, from Brent Eleigh, said: “If we lose this bus, it takes people’s freedom away.
“A lot of shops in Sudbury are closing and markets are struggling, but we all come and shop in the town and support them.
“Also, if more people are using buses, there will be less traffic going through the town.”
Fiona Johnston, a resident of Monks Eleigh, explained the bus itself also helps to reduce rural isolation by allowing its users to socialise.
“As well as being a vital form of transport, it’s a social service,” she said. “People form friendships on buses.”
Monks Eleigh Parish Council has backed the campaign to retain the bus by helping to circulate timetables around the village, and chairman Angela Forrest is encouraging other parish authorities to do the same, stating it is important for mental wellbeing that the service continues.
The route, which runs through Kersey, Semer, Bildeston, Chelsworth, Monks Eleigh, Brent Eleigh, Great Waldingfield and Little Waldingfield, has faced a turbulent year.
Notice was given by Suffolk Norse in May that its contract with Suffolk County Council would not be renewed, before the council admitted this was an “administrative oversight” and the service would continue.
However, the 112 was then listed among almost two dozen buses that would lose their council subsidies, based on a review of routes with average passenger counts deemed too low to be sustainable.
But Green Party councillor Robert Lindsay, who represents the villages served by the 112, said: “Clearly, there is demand for this service. A lot of people have not got any other options.”