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Transport lifeline for villages

PUBLISHED: 15:38 13 February 2008 | UPDATED: 08:50 13 July 2010

PEOPLE living in remote villages are being thrown a transport lifeline as a ring-and-ride bus service is expanded into north Norfolk.

The minibus scheme will give people living near North Walsham and Holt more flexibility to visit surgeries, shops, leisure centres and friends.

PEOPLE living in remote villages are being thrown a transport lifeline as a ring-and-ride bus service is expanded into north Norfolk.

The minibus scheme will give people living near North Walsham and Holt more flexibility to visit surgeries, shops, leisure centres and friends.

Brightly-painted 14-seater coaches are aimed at plugging gaps in the transport network in isolated places where people are stranded or limited in their journeys because of infrequent service buses.

The Flexibus is billed as “the convenience of a taxi at the cost of a bus,” and aims to help people of all ages, including students and young mothers, get to events and venues outside their villages.

Public transport chiefs are buying a £65,000 bus, and ploughing £60,000 a year into the project, which will start in an area east and south of North Walsham in May, with another planned for the Holt-Fakenham area later in the year.

Details of the Walsham scheme will be outlined at a public meeting in the town community centre on New Road today from 9.30-11am. Parishes between North Walsham, Happisburgh and Wroxham are likely to be involved.

County council cabinet member for planning and transportation Adrian Gunson said the Flexibus concept was proving popular in other parts of Norfolk - Watton and Wymondham.

“It is a way to offer public transport in villages that would currently have a much more limited service, or none at all,” he said. The scheme was not a “blanket solution for every rural area” but the council hoped to get two or three off the ground this year, and more next year.

Norfolk County Council's head of passenger transport Tracy Jessop said: “It could help students to do after-school activities, or young mothers stranded in a village with no access to a car if their partner has gone off to work in it for the day,” said

“It takes the pressure off people having to find lifts, or rely on a once-a-week service bus, and gives them more independence.”

Ms Jessop said officials were aware, through transport studies, of the problems of rural transport, but could not afford to pay for big buses running around half empty.

The Flexibus scheme would enable people to ring to an operator at least 24 hours in advance of their planned trip. If the trip could not be arranged for exactly when it was required the operator would suggest alternative times and dates.

The black, white and pink “VIP-style” minibus was equipped with a ramp to help wheelchair and pushchair users.

Fares, which are subsidised, would be about £2 a head,

She acknowledged there was already a bus scheme run by the North Walsham Community Transport Partnership, but it was on a membership basis and more targeted towards the elderly.

The Flexibus was aimed at a wider age range in the community, and would be complementary.

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