Lifeline bus service restored by community it serves
A lifeline bus service has started running again saved and financed by the very community that it serves.
Dubbed a ‘community centre on wheels’ the 61 bus from Livermead to Torquay via St Luke’s is once again reuniting old friends whilst travelling up and down some of the longest and steepest hills in the Bay.
It is more than just a bus service on so many levels – it allows some people to get out and about which they were unable to do when the service was cut last year because of mounting costs.
A taxi ride from Livermead to Torquay is around £8 each way – a sizeable chunk of your state pension if that is all you have, and if you have given up your car then there are no real alternatives – walking down the hills is OK for some, but back up again is out of the question.
Commercial operators gave up on the route in 2017, and cash strapped Torbay Council were unable to provide a subsidised alternative, so it was left to the voluntary sector, in the shape of the Torbay Community Development Trust, to plug the gap – if possible.
The first attempt was costly – buses are expensive in fuel and maintenance, particularly when running up and down steep hills – and there are the salaries of the drivers to consider, all of which must be covered by the fares paid by passengers.
And there’s the rub. Here in the Bay, an ageing population means that many of those that rely on a bus also has a bus pass and that means they don’t pay cash to the operator with them relying instead on a much reduced compensatory fare from the council for each passenger journey.
In a nutshell, the numbers do not and never could add up. And a bus pass without a bus is worthless.
But the 61 (formerly the 60 service) is different. It still has the costs, but it does not rely on fare-paying passengers on the day, because they have paid in advance for the privilege and they have paid whether they use it or not, and whether they have a bus pass or not.
Furthermore we are lucky enough to have volunteer drivers who put their time in free of charge for the benefit of the community, but we need more – lot’s more, and all you need to take to the wheel is a clean licence which includes a D1 category, which most people have if they took the test before 1997.
The relaunched service is believed to be unique – and whilst time will tell – might just represent the future of community transport in this country because the community it serves subsidies it with weekly direct debits which vary depending on where they live – around £6.50 for Livermead residents with the closer to Torquay St Luke’s people paying £3.50.
Planning the new service has brought the community together again with people paying the subsidy whether they have a bus pass or not, because they can see the value of getting their neighbours out and about.
Some hadn’t seen each other since the last service ground to a halt a year ago, but now they are picking up and renewing friendships as if it were only yesterday and it is worth it just for the smiles that it has put back on people’s faces.
The service runs three days a week – Monday, Wednesday and Friday with seven circular services a day starting from Livermead at 9.15 and the last out of Castle Circus, Torquay at 4.45 pm.
As one 82-year-old subscribing customer, Stuart Wilson said this week: “I can walk down the hill from my home in St Luke’s, but walking back up again?
“The bus is more than just transport it is the beginning of a community – one man I saw all the time when the bus was running before but didn’t see him again when it stopped.”
One of our drivers, 67-year-old Donald Williamson, a former HGV driver who moved to the area a few years ago from South Wales, has found it a great way to meet people.
“I am enjoying it so much; when you get a few people on board, it is a proper little social. I would recommend it to anyone who has a bit of time and enjoys driving.”
For more details about the OurBus timetable and to volunteer as a driver, please ring 01803 212638 or email us at email@example.com