Hundreds of Inverurie residents have backed a petition calling for Aberdeenshire Council to pull the breaks on the axe of a “godsend” bus service for the elderly.
Last month, the local authority announced it will be reducing or withdrawing a number of supported bus services to trial a new Uber-style public transport system.
As part of the initiative, from August this year traditional fixed-route buses will be replaced by five on-demand minibuses, which people can book through a mobile phone app, e-mail or over the phone.
Plans to introduce the pilot programme in Inverurie come following a public consultation on the “demand-responsive” approach, which found 76% of its 300 respondents agreeing now is a good time to try out the new system.
New travel system not viable for elderly people
However, hundreds have called for the council to rethink their decision, saying the system is not viable for elderly people and those with limited mobility.
More than 400 residents have signed a petition to save the 22 Inverurie Town Service, which is one of the proposed routes to be fully replaced by the new initiative.
Organiser Yvonne Gordon from Port Elphinstone fears this would be detrimental for older people, who rely on the bus to get to the town centre as the 22 service is the only one that passes through the neighbourhood.
She said: “There are hundreds of elderly and disabled people in our area and I honestly can’t see us working.
“I rely on this bus as I really need to be careful, because I’ve got problems with my veins and blood circulation in my legs, but I’m not just doing it for myself – I’m doing it for the community.
“This is the only bus that can take people to Inverurie Medical Centre and to Upperboat Road, as well as to both Tesco and Morrisons.
“The regular service allows people to plan appointments and make arrangements, and it doesn’t appear this could be at all guaranteed with the proposed changes.”
Unlike the council’s existing A2B dial-a-bus services, which has set weekday booking times and a one-hour notice requirement, the new system allows passengers to book a vehicle when they want to travel.
It’s been hailed as “more efficient and more green” as it reduces the number of journeys being made across the area.
Passengers can book through an Uber-style phone app which will also show them their pick-up time, directions to their bus stop and to track their transport’s arrival.
But Miss Gordon explained how difficult and frustrating this could be for people who are not technically savvy.
The 57-year-old said: “An app is not something everyone can use as some people just don’t have phones or internet connection.
“We want the 22 service, because it’s reliable for all of us.
“Not having this regular service will seriously affect elderly people’s mental health, because they use it to meet people for coffee, to go to the shops or to the hospital.
“They’ve kept buses that I’ve personally seen empty most mornings, and cut the service that the majority, if not all of us, use to get to the city centre.”
People of all ages join forces to save ‘godsend’ bus service
The petition has been supported by people of all ages – including 13-year-old Tyler Davidson, who uses the bus on a regular basis to go to school and to visit and help his grandmother at the other end of Inverurie.
Former butcher Willie Dunbar is also advocating for the 22 Inverurie Town Service to remain in its current form.
The 68-year-old stressed how important the bus is for people with limited mobility.
Mr Dunbar said: “The bus has been running for the last 20-25 years and it’s always been a regular service that you can rely on.
“It’s a godsend for the elderly people in the area.
“I’m a bit more able-bodied so I can walk up to the main street and get the other bus, but what about disabled and elderly people, who aren’t able to walk that distance.”
However, Aberdeenshire Council has reassured locals that the new system will provide a better and more reliable service, when it’s launched in the summer.
An Aberdeenshire Council spokesman said: “The Inverurie Town Service (Service 22) will continue in its current format until mid-August 2021, when it will be replaced by a more flexible Demand Responsive Transport scheme.
“This will providing increased travel opportunities over a longer period on Mondays to Saturdays.
“Existing users of Inverurie Town Service will still be able to access the hospital and/or supermarkets and indeed several other destinations which cannot currently be served by the fixed route bus service.
“Customers will be kept fully informed in due course on the various booking arrangements for the new scheme.”
All of the fixed route bus services which are proposed to be withdrawn and fully or partly replaced by the new DRT service include the 22 Inverurie Town; 240 Saturday service and 416 weekly shopper bus Rhynie – Auchleven – Inverurie; 41 Insch – Inverurie; 308 Turriff – Rothienorman – Inverurie; 421 Alford – Kemnay – Inverurie; and the 49 route section between Oldmeldrum and Inverurie.