Ourbus passes keys of scheduled bus routes to new operator

It’s been a blast keeping the wheels of the bus going round and round. However, it is time to hand over our scheduled bus services to a new provider.

Torbay Communities is not and never has been a bus company, and despite it being outside our area of expertise, we stepped in to keep services running when no one else wanted to.

We might not be a bus company, but we recognise a need when we see one. We realised that several communities were in danger of being cut off completely, which led to increased loneliness and isolation when commercial services were withdrawn.

Torquay is famous for many things, not least the steep hills that surround the town centre, making getting there without transport no mean feat. Walking into town is doable, but walking back is quite another.

Not everyone can afford a car, nor can they repeatedly dip into their pockets to pay for regular taxis, so the prospects were bleak when the buses were pulled. For some, it meant they were stuck at the top of their hill with little or no prospect of getting out and about.

Torquay town centre does not just represent shopping; it is a place where people congregate and socialise. Many have the opportunity to be with others and have otherwise rare conversations.

Our team recognised back in 2017 that something needed to be done, so the first of our community bus services, the number 61,  was born, ferrying residents of Livermead, St Lukes, and all areas in between to and from the town centre.

A second service, the number 65,  was quickly added, running between The Willows and Market Street in Torquay via Hele, St Marychurch, Babbacombe and Plainmoor.

We didn’t get it right straight away. In fact, our initial efforts hit our coffers hard through a combination of expensive repairs and lower-than-expected revenues from ticket sales and we had to suspend the service until we could come up with a better way of meeting the needs of our communities affordably.

In November 2019, we relaunched the 61 service after we came up with what was believed to be the first community-scheduled bus service to be run using a subscription scheme, committing passengers to pay weekly by direct debit.

Two years later, after Torbay Council recognised how important the services were, we were able to reintroduce the number 65, and both services were subsidised by a council grant.

It has always been much more than just bus services; it is more of a community centre on wheels, with passengers enjoying the chance to chat and check in with each other if they haven’t boarded for several days.

The passengers loved it and the drivers enjoyed getting to know them by their first names. However, we sometimes struggled to find enough volunteers to sit behind the wheel and were occasionally forced to trim back the services accordingly.

Now, as we prepare to hand over the service to a professional bus company with the required infrastructure and years of experience, we look back at an ultimately successful rollercoaster of a ride – on and off the buses. We proved we could do it because we needed to do it for our communities.

We smile with pride as we fondly remember comments like Eileen Harvey and her friends Iris Blackmore and Glenys Marriot, who made a point of using the service every day that it runs to pop into town for a coffee and a catch-up.

“We all know each other and of course all the volunteer drivers also know us and we know that we would not be able to run the service without them, we cannot praise them enough. It is wonderful and could not do without it.”

Or the words of one of our drivers, Andy Baker who said: “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.”

As we get ready to ring the bell for the last time and stop running daily scheduled services, we look forward to running more day trips with our buses and volunteer drivers welcoming aboard a new community of travellers.