STAFF have stepped down from a vital transport service for elderly and disabled people in Portsmouth.
But the leader of the charity which runs the city’s Dial-A-Ride has promised the scheme will not be cut back, and will not lose investment in the future.
Three staff members – a driver and two office staff – have left the Community First-run service, which carries people to hospital appointments, for shopping visits or to other venues across the city.
Service user Una Wright said: ‘We were told it was because Community First wasn’t getting so much money. I am sorry to see them go. They were my friends. There are other drivers. I am sure they’re good, but I will have to build a new relationship with them.’
Mrs Wright, 74, of Warren Avenue, Milton, has used a wheelchair since 2008, after having an operation on her hips and knees.
She said: ‘The bus service is the only way I can get out. I use it to go to Tesco at Northarbour. I spend three hours up there. It’s good to get out and meet people. It makes a real difference to me.’
The service makes 12,000 journeys a year, and has 829 signed-up members.
The people who use it call in advance to book transport, and the services buses call door-to-door, picking several passengers up on each trip.
But despite its popularity, Portsmouth City Council told Community First it would have to cut the amount it paid the charity to operate the service, during contract negotiations earlier this year.
The charity agreed in March to a new three-year deal under which it will operate the service for £113,000 per year, a cut of £41,900.
Pam Turton, Portsmouth City Council’s assistant head of traffic and street management said: ‘Across the council, difficult financial savings have had to be made, and this included a reduction in the budget for the dial-a-ride service. Despite this dial-a-ride continues to provide a service for vulnerable residents, seven days a week.’
The three employees who have left the service served out their notice, but stepped down because the charity could no longer offer them enough hours of work.
But Community First’s new chairman, Paul Emery, said: ‘The service still operates and I can guarantee it’s one of our priorities. We will continue to invest in the service, and improve it, if possible.’