A trustee of a highly valued community bus initiative has warned of funding cuts and the need to find other sources of cash and support if the service is to have a successful, sustainable future.
Geoff Doggett, who is also vice chairman for Borderhoppa, which serves people without other means of transport across 68 different parishes in the Diss Express area, said the association was not in “dire financial straits” as some had been led to believe, but admitted there were difficulties in balancing the increasing need for the ‘Dial-a-Ride’ service with the decreasing amount of funds from council grants.
Mr Doggett, a former member of Harleston with Redenhall Town Council, told the Diss Express: “The demand on our services is increasing quite consistently almost month on month. Borderhoppa is actually more popular than it has ever been.
“An important point is that the ‘Dial-a-Ride’ (service) always runs at a loss. It’s not commercially viable, but as a charity we do it for the social need.
“That’s why the busier we are, the more important it is that we are supported by these funds.”
Since launching in Diss about 12 years ago, the service has become reliant on grants from the likes of Norfolk County Council, South Norfolk Council and Suffolk County Council.
At a recent Diss Town Council meeting, councillor Elizabeth Dewhurst, who is also a trustee for the Community Transport Association, submitted a report indicating that Borderhoppa was “facing considerable financial challenges” after reduced grants from these authorities, including a 40 per cent drop year-on-year in funds from Suffolk County Council.
The council was unable to supply a comment, but did confirm it would be investigating their current financing of the scheme.
Mr Doggett made assurances the service was “in very good shape” but said they could not rely on these grants to continue and would need to look elsewhere to boost their finances.
“We will have to ask the communities to support our services to a much greater degree,” he said.
“Our plan for sustainability is to ask the parishes on our list to make contributions to us.
“We will be going to all of them and asking for support from local charities and local businesses, to eventually replace the grants.”
Diss Town Council is one of the authorities already looking into how they can support the service on behalf of its parish, with mayor Keith Kiddie suggesting potential funding via the Market Towns Initiative.
Mr Doggett added that this situation did not detract from the Borderhoppa Plus project, a three-year programme that began almost a year ago following a large bursary of £346,257 from the Big Lottery Fund Reaching Communities.
This money has enabled the acquisition of two new buses and three new drivers, plus the expansion of the ‘Dial-a-Ride’ to Long Stratton and surrounding parishes.
Borderhoppa has also introduced several new services for transporting young people, including a collaboration with the Exchange2 youth group in Harleston, and job seekers travelling to clubs and job fairs.
“This project is to do innovative and new things. Obviously it takes time to build up but it’s going very well so far,” said Mr Doggett.
To make enquiries or to book use with the ‘Dial-a-Ride’, contact 01379 854800 or email firstname.lastname@example.org - giving a minimum of two working days and a maximum of seven working days notice to schedule any travel.
For additional information on the ‘Dial-a-Ride’, visit www.borderhoppa.org