Leighton’s Buzzer Buses faces blow as funding is axed

Buzzer Buses
Buzzer Buses

Elderly and vulnerable residents have been left concerned for the future of Leighton Buzzard “lifeline”, Buzzer Buses, after Central Bedfordshire Council (CBC) cut its funding.

Worried pensioners have contacted the LBO after learning the bus is no longer receiving its annual grant, with CBC following through on plans to cut back its £1.2m annual routes subsidy.

Some residents have reported that as of September, their fares will increase, and now want answers about their beloved red buses’ future.

One elderly lady told the LBO: “My friends and I were all given a letter from Buzzer Buses saying that they didn’t get a grant from the council and that as of September 1, our fares will increase by £1 per journey.

“At the moment I pay £3 for a return, but from September, it will be £5 – an extra pound into town, and an extra pound to come back.

“I’ve been a member of Buzzer Buses for years since my husband died, and I go into Leighton Buzzard twice a week, once to the bank and once to the hairdressers. But I’m 82 coming up 83; this will be more money out of my pension.

“My friends and I use it to go to the doctors, dentists, and shopping. This news is quite worrying, especially if you are disabled.”

Another annoyed local said: “Buzzer Buses in most cases are the only form of transport the elderly have to do their shopping. A typical case again of hitting the weak and vulnerable. Well done CBC.”

Buzzer Buses’s annual grant payment for the 2016/17 financial year was £97,530.19, with the red buses serving those who need transport due to age, sickness, disability or due to a “lack of an adequate and safe public service”.

Buzzer Buses is a membership organisation and registered charity, working in partnership with Central Beds Council. However, concerns have been mounting for a while.

When plans were announced in October 2016 to cut back CBC’s £1.2m susbsidy, Independent Councillor, Adam Zerny, criticised the changes, saying that the community groups including South Beds Dial-a-ride, Mid Beds Link-a-ride, The Buzzer and the Ivel Sprinter would see funding from CBC cut by up to 24 per cent.

Furthermore, Buzzer Buses chairman of trustees Pauline O’Toole warned in 2015: “We cannot continue without their (Leighton Buzzard residents’) help and backing in our quest to secure long- term funding.”

But it appears that funding may have become increasingly difficult to secure.

A Central Beds Council spokesman, said: “As part of our Passenger Transport Strategy which was adopted in October 2016, the way the council funds dial-a-ride services operating in its area was changed from a grant payment to a competitive tender. Buzzer Buses were not successful in the tender process.

“Following the outcome of the tender process being made known Buzzer Buses advised us that they would continue to provide their service without any council funding and it is now up to them how much they charge as the service is being run commercially.

“The council does still contribute £1 for every journey where a concessionary pass is used, though.”

However, Buzzer Buses have indicated to the LBO that a silver lining may lie ahead and that residents should not be too concerned.

Matt Gale, general manager at Buzzer Buses, said: “We’re very positive. We are working together with Central Bedfordshire Council to try and find a solution to the situation.

“I’m afraid that’s the only thing I can tell you at the moment, but the situation is looking really positive.”

Buzzer Buses is run on a day-to-day basis by Matt under the direction of their trustees who meet every two months to discuss policy and future operations.

Currently Buzzer Buses registration costs £10 per person with a voluntary annual administration/renewal fee of £10 per person.

Call: 01525 853566.