ALMOST 200 people joined a bus stop protest to voice their anger against a decision to cut off a Weymouth community.

There is dismay in Southill after bus firm First announced it was pulling out of the estate.

People are angry the operator is axing service 5 before consulting and investigating alternatives.

Elderly people who travel for free said they would be prepared to pay towards the fare than lose the bus altogether.

They fear they will be stranded without a link to town.

Demonstration organiser, county councillor David Harris, had called for people to assemble at a bus stop in Southill to show the strength of feeling.

Householders were joined by representatives from businesses, residents of local sheltered housing complexes and users of the day centre, all of whom will be affected.

First is making timetable changes from March 24.

Coun Harris told the crowd he wanted to meet with the regional director for First to thrash out issues, would press Dorset County Council for subsidy, and investigate whether Damory Coaches wanted to run a service.

He said later: “It was a great turnout and shows the feeling about trying to rescue the Southill bus.

“There’s many people who rely on the bus but they’re not using it every day which is why our solution would be to divert some buses through here that run regularly elsewhere such as Hereford Road and Littlemoor services.

“There was a threat to Southill service a few years ago and we campaigned against it. The result was we were given a bus which ran to Lanehouse which was not well thought out.”

Coun Harris said he was aware First was struggling to maintain a route which carried many concessionary pass holders. Many elderly people he had spoken too are prepared to pay a contribution.

Among the demonstrators was Doreen Symonds, 78, who lives in sheltered accommodation.

She said: “I would be left isolated without a bus. I’m entitled to free bus travel but I’d rather pay the full fare than be without the bus and have to get a taxi which is seven pounds each way.”

Her friend Sylvia Baker, 62, said: “It’s disgusting the way the bus company is behaving. They should look at extending other routes before cutting us off.”

Sharath Karanth, from Angel Pharmacy, said elderly people relied on the bus for medical appointments and would probably resort to calling an ambulance if they were stranded and panicked about medication.

“Getting out and about also improves their mood, it’s a social thing,” he said.

It’s like the ‘third world’

OTHER demonstrators included Brian Edwards, 77, pictured, who said the area had a ‘third world bus service’.

Bournemouth Echo:

He said: “There’s nothing after six o’clock in the evening, nothing on Sun-days or bank holidays.

“There’s a square mile of people here with a third rate bus service.”

Users of Southill day centre which caters for adults with learning disabilities made a placard reading: ‘Keep Southill alive, save our number five’.

Day service officer Dee Spalding said there were 19 out of 30 users who wouldn’t be able to attend if the bus was axed.

Borough councillor Ryan Hope said Southill’s elderly population would suffer. His Lib Dem colleague Christine James said in a bid to establish viable routes, managers should ‘start with a blank canvas’ and ask people where they would like to see a service.

Nothing we can do, says First

A FIRST spokesman said: “We understand why those involved arranged this and why they are frustrated. We respect their right to protest peacefully but we regret that there is nothing we can do.

“Service 5/5A, which we operate on a commercial basis, has performed poorly over a number of years and while efforts have been made to make it more financially viable these have not been successful.

“We deeply regret the impact that the decision to withdraw this route may have on local people, however in the current economic climate it can no longer sustain this loss-making route and thus has no choice but to withdraw it.

“We believe that the best long term solution for residents now would be to contact their local councillors to see if a bus service for the area could be supported by the local authority.

“The route as it stands is not commercially viable, the council has within its gift the power to contract a service if it believes that one is socially necessary.”