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Dial-a-Ride 'is in chaos'
A TRANSPORT boss has pledged to investigate “crazy” dial-a-ride problems which are seeing pensioners refused seats on empty buses.
Oxfordshire County Council’s Rodney Rose spoke after three friends were told they couldn’t book a seat on a “full” bus for the last month. But they said the bus turns up with no one on it and takes friend Elia Brown, 85, to and from Sainsbury’s in Heyford Hill alone.
They blamed a recent change by the council which allows users to block-book journeys on the door-to-door service weeks in advance.
While Mrs Brown called when advance seats were available, the other three were too late and seats have been booked.
Now the three – of Tumbling Bay Court, off Botley Road – can’t take a seat even if others miss their booking because of “insurance” risks.
The £5-a-year service is seen as a lifeline for OAPs and the disabled who struggle to use public transport or are not on bus routes.
Osteoporosis sufferer Violet Lee, 78, of Tumbling Bay Court, said: “It is completely mad. It’s ridiculous. They just haven’t given enough thought to it.”
Now she struggles to get a bus to go shopping in Botley and often needs a £4 taxi home.
Fellow resident Barbara Dodd, 88, said: “I could scream at them.
“It is jolly annoying to see Elia go off when sometimes she doesn’t want to and we want to and can’t.”
Maggie Roman, 85, said: “Each time I am told ‘sorry we are full up’. Then there is only one person on there.”
Mrs Brown said she feels “awful” getting on the minibus alone, adding: “It is so chaotic.”
In a letter to Mrs Lee, assistant council public transport officer Neil Timberlake said block-booking was introduced to free up phone lines.
But he said: “However, in solving one problem we have, sadly, created another in that these ‘standing order’ bookings have now filled all the available space for the next few weeks.”
He said: “I share your dissatisfaction with the current state of affairs.”
Deputy council leader Mr Rose said it was the first he had heard of the problem but said: “It is crazy that they are barring people from getting on when there are empty seats.
“It is something I am not prepared to put up with and I want to ensure there are bums on seats.”
Council spokesman Owen Morton said block-booking – introduced in August – ensured groups could travel together, freeing up spaces elsewhere.
He told the Oxford Mail: “If customers do not keep appointments and we do not have enough notice to offer seats to other customers, we aren’t always in a position to make changes to the schedule.
“We are continuing to monitor booking patterns closely to help us make the service as flexible as possible, including the reassignment of resources when demand has proved low on certain days and routes.”
The county council took over the service in April after four out of five other councils withdrew funding, cutting Oxford’s two daily buses to one.
Mr Morton said it was “inevitable” this would cut availability and put “more pressure on resources”.
Those who cancel too late or miss journeys face a £4 fine. However, the council said it did not record how many journeys are missed.
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