Community bus services under threat

Community bus services are under threat because of a shortage of volunteer drivers.

Already OurBus services on the much-needed 61 and 65 routes have had to be cut back and there may be more reductions unless the number of volunteer drivers can be doubled from four to eight.

For the 65 service, the Saturday service has been withdrawn along with the last loop. This means the service will now run on Tuesdays and Thursdays only between 9.28 and 15.14. These changes will come into effect on Saturday 29th July 2023 and continues until further notice.

The 61 service is currently running a reduced service with the last loop not running, meaning the last bus from Livermead is 15.15.

The unique bus services started with the relaunch of the 61 service in November 2019 – saved by the community it serves – using a unique subscription scheme.

The bus, which runs between Livermead in Torquay and the town centre via St Lukes, is believed to be the first community scheduled service in the country to be run using subscriptions committing passengers to paying weekly by direct debit.

The 65 service, which runs between Marks and Spencer in the Willows and the town centre relaunched using the same scheme in April 2021.

Torbay Council, realising the importance of the services, are currently subsidising both routes which means that the subscriptions are currently suspended.

But both routes still rely on the goodwill of the team of volunteer drivers who commit to as much or as little driving time as they feel comfortable.

“Our drivers love doing what they do and their passengers are very appreciative. But for some reason, we are struggling to find them at the moment,” said Kelly Bedoyan, Community Transport Co-ordinator for OurBus, which is part of Torbay Communities.

“The passengers and volunteer drivers who are part of Ourbus know that it provides more than just a bus service; it’s a community centre on wheels where neighbours can meet, share news, find out more about what’s going on in their area and maybe even become friends.

“We know it is not ideal to cut services with short notice as this has affected people who have missed medical appointments, so we feel that the above changes will help us run the shorter amended timetables with the current volunteers.”

One such driver is Andy Baker, 70, a former electrician, who moved to the Bay in 2004 to help set up a new department at South Devon College, but when he retired five years ago, he began looking for new opportunities and found lots of them.

He drives for Ourbus one day a week, skippers for the Disabled Sailing Association once or twice a month out of Torbay Harbour and when the weather is good, he can be found helping out in the Oldway Mansion Gardens.

“I enjoy it. Let’s face it, I wouldn’t do it otherwise. You get to know everyone; they are appreciative and always up for a chat. You get to be treated like one of the family.

“I would recommend volunteering to everyone. It gets you out and about you get to meet and help other people and of course, it is fun.”

If you feel that you can offer some time, then we’d love to hear from you. Please contact Kelly on 07816 407495 or [email protected]. All you need is a D1 category on your licence and you can claim back your mileage and lunch expenses too.