A COMMUNITY transport service in Somerset will no longer offer free travel to elderly or disabled passengers following a decision by the county council.

The Slinky Bus service provides demand-responsive transport for those who do not have their own means of travel or cannot use conventional public transport.

The service is currently free for those holding free bus passes under the national concessionary scheme – including those who are disabled or of pensionable age.

But from Monday (February 4) those holding such passes will have to pay for the privilege of travelling to health appointments or visiting their relatives.

The Slinky bus service operates in the following areas in Somerset:

  • Chard and Ilminster (including the surrounding villages)
  • Martock and South Petherton (including the surrounding villages)
  • Mendip East (including Frome, Midsomer Norton, Radstock, Shepton Mallet and Wells)
  • Mendip West (including Glastonbury, Shepton Mallet, Street and Wells)
  • Sedgemoor North (including Burnham-on-Sea, Cheddar, Highbridge and Wedmore
  • Sedgemoor South (including Bridgwater, North Petherton and the surrounding villages)
  • Taunton and Wellington (including the surrounding villages)
  • West Somerset (including Minehead, Porlock, Watchet and Williton)

Somerset County Council’s cabinet voted in September 2018 to cut the level of subsidy being given to Slinky Bus passengers across the county, claiming it could save £40,000 by April 2020.

The council has now published details of the new charges which will be brought in, with concessionary bus passes holders now having to pay half the normal fare.

For those with passes, a single journey will now cost £1.30 for up to three miles, and £1.80 for a single further afield.

Return fares will be £2 for a journey of up to three miles and £2.50 for any further.

The council said that 83 per cent of registered Slinky users who responded to a consultation in October and November were in favour of the increase.

Natasha Bates, the council’s commissioning service manager for highways and transport, said: “We currently exercise the discretionary element of the concessionary fares scheme to allow pass holders to travel free of charge on the demand-responsive services.

“The proposal to charge 50 per cent fares to pass holders using these services will generate income for the council.”

The council expects to earn approximately £6,500 from the change by the end of the current financial year, and a further £40,000 in each of the following two years.

Ms Bates said these predictions were made on the basis of a ten per cent drop in service booking as a result of the new charges.

She admitted, however, that the change could impact on the most vulnerable in society.

She said: “The service is mainly used by the most vulnerable members of our community; users are mostly elderly, disabled and those unable to drive, which could leave them socially isolated if the service was removed altogether.

“This will impact on those people on a low income.

“The proposed 50 per cent charge will ensure that the Slinky services are able to remain in place and continue to serve the residents of Somerset. It will make the services more sustainable.”

For more information on the Slinky service, including how to make a booking, visit www.travelsomerset.co.uk/slinky-services-demand-responsive-transport.