'I'd be lost without this bus': Elderly residents fear for 'lifeline' bus service facing axe

The fate of a "vital" Sandwell bus service described as a lifeline for elderly and disabled people is up in the air as transport bosses consider whether to axe or save it.

The 66 bus service risks being axed, and has been described as a "lifeline" for elderly and disabled people
The 66 bus service risks being axed, and has been described as a "lifeline" for elderly and disabled people

Earlier this week, Transport for West Midlands (TfWM) announced that four services across the Black Country would be scrapped from January 1, while decisions are yet to be made on a further 11 routes.

One of the 11 services which still hangs in the balance is the 66 bus service, which runs between West Bromwich and Stone Cross.

The threat to the service has caused fear and outrage in residents of the Bustleholme and Wigmore estates in West Bromwich.

Residents from the Bustleholme estate have organised a petition, which has so far racked up a massive 370 signatures.

Councillors say the majority of the bus users and those who have signed the petition are elderly or disabled, prompting fears that some residents will be left housebound if the service is removed.

Despite the outcry from residents who say the loss of the route "will be detrimental to the estate", Transport for West Midlands claims the service no longer offers value for money.

"We couldn't do without it"

Residents who rely on the service include an individual who is not only disabled, but has suffered from cancer and a stroke, as well as a 92-year-old woman who says she will be unable to visit her daughter if the bus is taken off.

Another resident is visited by her partially-sighted friend three times a week, which will have to stop if the service is culled, and many elderly residents fear they will be cut off socially if the decision is made to axe the 66.

For 74-year-old Dennis Howells, the bus is the only way he can get into West Bromwich, and him and his daughter, Marie Howells, fear for what will happen if the 66 is not saved.

Dennis and Marie Howells rely on the bus, as it is the only way for them to get to West Bromwich

For one elderly couple who have recently sold their car due to rising fuel costs, they are unsure how to proceed without the bus. Comments on the petition include: "I'd be lost without this bus", "I couldn't do without it", and "this service is essential to the area".

Another said "this is a big, big loss" while another resident posed the scathing question: "Why should the elderly suffer yet again?"

Residents of the Bustleholme Estate, which includes Andrew Road, Rayford Drive, Stanhurst Way, and Manorford Avenue, rely on the 66 bus service.

The organisers of the petition, Christine Greaves and Margaret Hollis, told the Express & Star: "TfWM says this is a bus route that falls outside the value for money criteria - this will always have been the case as the times of the service fall outside of peak times for workers and school children.

"The fact is this is a service mainly used by pensioners and the disabled. Removing the service and leaving people housebound could see a rise in social care costs in the area.

"As Transport for West Midlands has had an £800,000 increase in its annual subsidy, taking the total budget to £16.3million, we hope something can be done to save this vital service."

Christine added: "I myself am recently of pensionable age, retiring in October, and have used this service for the last 30 years paying fares ranging from 40p to £3.20.

"My neighbour and I have waited an extra six years for our bus pass, along with our pension, as WASPIs. This seems most unfair as Londoners receive free travel from 60. We will always be a deprived area if funding for Sandwell and the West Midlands continues in this manner."

The petition organisers have received support from their local councillors, David Fisher and Les Trumpeter, who serve Charlemont and Grove Vale.

Residents of the Bustleholme Estate, which includes Andrew Road, Rayford Drive, Stanhurst Way, and Manorford Avenue, rely on the 66 bus service.

Councillor David Fisher said: "I will do everything I possibly can to keep the number 66 bus service. I know how important it is for local residents including the elderly to maintain their independence. If this bus service is cut, I'm concerned about the isolation and mental health impact it may have on residents on the Bustleholme estate."

Councillor Les Trumpeter added: "We've listened to local residents and we will do whatever we can to stop this vital service from being cut."

Nicola Richards, MP for West Bromwich East, added: "Local bus services are so important to ensure people at all ages can live independent, active and healthy lives. My concern is that the 66 bus serves several local estates and this may be some peoples only way of reaching the main bus routes.

"I fully support Cllr Fisher, Cllr Trumpeter, and local residents who are rightly pointing out how vital this service is."

However, Transport for West Midlands bosses blame soaring costs for risks to bus services, following increases in fuel prices, driver shortages and reduced passenger numbers since the Covid lockdowns.

Pete Bond, director of integrated transport services for Transport for West Midlands, said: "The 66 bus is one of the few remaining routes over which a decision is pending and we are in discussions with the existing bus provider to potentially continue to run the service. We hope to finalise the situation in the coming days.

“The 66 service fell outside our value for money criteria, which is why it was placed at risk. However there is cause for optimism that we can reach agreement to continue the service beyond December and into 2023.

“It is not our intention to leave anyone isolated, but we have to deliver what is affordable with the funding available and sustainable given reductions next year in the Government bus service support funding which was put in place during the Covid pandemic.”

Buses in the Black Country which have been axed this week include the 22 from Tipton to Wednesbury, the 26 from Walsall to Blakenall, the 36 from Walsall to Alumwell, and the 30 from Darlaston to Bilston.

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