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Borderhoppa bus service for Diss and Harleston on the brink of going under

The only community bus service in Diss and Harleston has warned that it may have to shut down if passenger numbers do not pick up - leaving hundreds of residents unable to make essential journeys.

Borderhoppa, which runs a door to door transport service for elderly and vulnerable residents in villages across south Norfolk and north Suffolk, has reported seeing passengers numbers halve since the pandemic began.

The service, which is funded through South Norfolk Council and Norfolk County Council, is now worrying that “they won’t be here in a few years’ time if things don’t pick up”.

Borderhoppa drivers Trevor Holmes and Colin Beales with manager Tom Clarke and assistant manager Andy Lewis. Picture: Mecha Morton.
Borderhoppa drivers Trevor Holmes and Colin Beales with manager Tom Clarke and assistant manager Andy Lewis. Picture: Mecha Morton.

Tom Clarke, operations manager at Borderhoppa, said: “The pandemic really has affected us.

“We have seen a huge drop in numbers in people using our service.

“I’ve been here since 2012 and this is the lowest it has been in that time.”

In February 2020, just before the pandemic began, the service made more than 400 return journeys - taking residents into town for shopping trips or to essential medical appointments.

Two years later, in February 2022, that number was at less than 200.

They currently employ six paid staff, with an additional three volunteers. Mr Clarke warned that the workforce may have to be cut before ultimately shutting down entirely if passenger numbers do not increase in the coming weeks and months.

“It’s definitely a very strong concern,” said the 35-year-old. It will certainly mean reducing the size of the operation to a point that we can manage and sustain.

“At this point we haven’t made any staffing reductions but how long we can stay like this, we are unsure.

“There’s a very good chance we won’t be here in a few years’ time if things don’t pick up.”

For many residents in more remote areas of south Norfolk and north Suffolk, which have seen traditional bus services cut in recent years, Borderhoppa provides their only way of getting into the towns of Diss, Harleston, Long Stratton and Eye.

“Although there are other community transport services, we are the only one working in Diss and Harleston,” said Mr Clarke.

“Given the price of taxis, people will struggle to get around without us here.

“There’s a lot of villages with quite poor bus services at the moment, and some people are contacting us to say we are the only way they can get out.

“People are more cut off than they ever have been and whilst we are trying to get them back out and into daily life, it’s incredibly difficult.”

Council officials also stressed the crucial role the service plays within the community.

South Norfolk councillor Alison Thomas said: “Borderhoppa provides a vital community transport service to the residents of South Norfolk who have no access to other forms of transport.

“Without it, residents would be unable to manage important daily tasks such as attending medical appointments, shopping or to participate in social events which are important in helping to reduce social isolation.”

Martin Wilby, Cabinet Member for Highways, Infrastructure and Transport at Norfolk County Council, added: “As a local councillor I know how much this valued service means to people as it connects them to shops, services, friends and family.

“If people haven’t used this excellent service before, I’d urge them to find out more and give it a try.”

Several bus services throughout the county have been reduced or removed since the begning of the pandemic.

Under their ‘Bus Back Better’ plans, Norfolk County Council has partnered with bus operators to improve accessibility, cut fares for under 25s and make more frequent links for services over the next five years.

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