SHORTER hours for Cheshire East’s dial-a-ride bus service could leave some vulnerable residents cut off, councillors have warned.

Cheshire East Council-owned firm Transport Service Solutions (TSS) will take over the service, currently known as Little Bus, from private provider D&G Bus on Monday, August 5.

But the new service will run from 9.30am to 2.30pm – a ‘big difference’ from the current hours of 9am to 4pm, Cllr Hazel Faddes told councillors on Monday.

The Labour member for Crewe East added: “These are people with dementia, people who are stroke survivors, people with varying degrees of disability.

“They can’t come here, they can’t speak, so we have to speak for them – and we have to tell you that the change in the times of the new service will affect these people.

“I ask you to please – please – think about these people who rely on the service that we give to them.”

Cllr Faddes told the environment and regeneration overview and scrutiny committee about a neighbour with dementia, who is currently picked up by the Little Bus at 8.45am and taken to a day centre in Nantwich – where she can socialise, have lunch and take part in activities.

If the time changes go ahead as planned, Cllr Faddes said her neighbour would only have time for lunch and would miss out on valuable opportunities to socialise at the day centre.

Cllr Suzanne Brookfield, Labour member for Crewe East, suggested that it is ‘really important’ the shortfall is addressed, and asked whether the services could be extended to between 9am and 4pm.

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She said: “It’s not just about getting to that appointment on time, it is about the holistic benefits that are brought about.”

Little Bus, which costs the council £580,000 a year to run, had 2,400 registered members and 700 users last year.

Anyone who is over the age of 80, registered disabled or has no access to any other scheduled public transport can use the dial-a-ride service.

The service makes 4,000 trips a month, and CEC says that 74 per cent of these will be unaffected by the changes, while nine per cent can be accommodated by changing the time of travel.

But it leaves the council struggling to fit in 17 per cent of the current journeys – the equivalent of 30 dial-a-ride trips per day.

Cllr Peter Groves stressed the need for the dial-a-ride services in areas like Stapeley – where he said it costs £14 to get to Nantwich’s Morrisons in a taxi, and £14 to get back.

And the Conservative member for Nantwich South and Stapeley called for funding from central Government to help meet the growing cost of looking after Cheshire East’s elderly residents.

He said: “If we are going forward and we are going to encourage people to stay in their own homes rather than go to residential care, we do need to ensure that they have the ability to combat social isolation, and enable them to shop and socialise.

“I feel very strongly going forward that we need to pressure central Government to fund this because expecting local government to meet these increasing costs of keeping people mobile, where they are already meeting the ever increasing costs of social care, is quite frankly, simply unfair.”

CEC’s changes to the dial-a-ride service, which will be rebranded as FlexiLink, come following the council’s bus review in 2017 that led to a number of services being axed the following April.

The existing 12-year-old Little Bus fleet is to be replaced by two-year-old, more efficient vehicles, based at the TSS depot in Middlewich – and all but one of the current D&G Little Bus staff are set to move over to TSS.

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Richard Hibbert, interim head of transport at CEC, told the committee that the council ‘can do more’ to keep the current hours.

But it would come at a cost – with TSS likely to require additional buses, as the firm needs to use the fleet for special school transport before 9.30am and after 2.30pm.

He added: “I think it is reasonable to say that everybody involved in the development of this proposal is acutely aware that when we are talking about Little Bus we are talking about a number of very vulnerable users.”

The committee agreed that cabinet should take another look at the plans for FlexiLink and its operating hours before it goes live on August 5.