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Bus axe leaves elderly reeling

PUBLISHED: 15:41 04 March 2009 | UPDATED: 10:30 23 August 2010

DEVASTATED: The elderly bus users, some of whom are disabled, desperately need the service.

DEVASTATED: The elderly bus users, some of whom are disabled, desperately need the service.

FRAIL pensioners are appalled that they have been reduced to a statistic as vital rural bus services are set to be axed. Two buses run by Royal Mail act as a lifeline for about 20 elderly residents living in Bean, Southfleet, Betsham and Stansted Villa

FRAIL pensioners are "appalled" that they have been reduced to a statistic as vital rural bus services are set to be axed.

Two buses run by Royal Mail act as a lifeline for about 20 elderly residents living in Bean, Southfleet, Betsham and Stansted Village who are taken to and from Gravesend for essential groceries and doctor visits.

Many are in their 80s and are infirmed but in a letter sent to residents by Kent County Council (KCC), who subsidise the service, it said: "No amount of subsidy would be enough...as it is has become financially non-viable."

Royal Mail, which is reeling from a £7 billion pensions black hole and part privatisation plans, will cut the busses from April 18.

Ellen Chandler, 69, of Sandy Lane, Bean, has used the service three times a week for 16 years.

She said: "We are not a number, we are real people. I'm appalled that we have been reduced to a statistic.

"This is dreadful, we are devastated. I have a bad back and many of the ladies are disabled, they can't carry shopping big distances.

"The two men who drive the buses are so kind, they help us on and off and help out with our groceries.

"I honestly don't know what we will do without the buses."

The service was given a reprieve 18 months ago when KCC doubled its subsidy, which runs out next month. It is now to be axed.

Alice Osborne, 76, of Tumblefield Road, Stansted Village, relies on the post bus after her husband contracted Alzheimer's and had to give up his driving licence.

She said: "It's a lifeline for many elderly ladies, I'm the baby of this group.

"I've shopped in Gravesend since I was a little girl, if the post bus goes we will be cut off."

Mrs Osborne said the nearest commercial bus route is at Borough Green, costing £11 by taxi each way, adding: "If I have to pay that there will be no money left for food."

Chair of Southfleet parish council Noreen Salway is now urging KCC to look for another provider who can step in.

Post buses 304 and 305 cost KCC £9 and £11 per person per journey, higher than its policy limit of £3.

A Royal Mail spokesman said: "Royal Mail is first and foremost a postal operator and our first priority is the collection and delivery of mail."

He said that both buses have very low passenger numbers and the decision to cut the service was not taken lightly and "only after lengthy discussion with local authorities".

A spokesman for KCC said: "Royal Mail has not been receptive to invitations to provide a revised figure, and it is assumed that they are now unable to operate these services.

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