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NEWSLETTER No 65 SPRINGTIME - May 2014

Dear Members

It is now 9 months since we had to withdraw our service from Luton Borough Council (LBC). Since then our organisation has been through massive change, in losing 5 members of staff and a few buses. The good news is that although we are now smaller, our costs have reduced and we are taking on new contracts which will all create a financial surplus which we use to support more dial-a-ride journeys. Money is getting tighter everywhere now, so we also need to find new ways to increase our income. More of this below.

THE CURRENT SITUATION IN LUTON

Ever since the decision to pull out in August, we have continued to offer some level of dial-a-ride service in Luton in response to members’ desperate requests. Several of our members quickly became disillusioned with the “interim service”, and even though the alternative to SBDAR was free travel with the council, they decided to pay between £4-6 per single journey to continue to travel with us. We offer the same flexibility as we always have, and offer more than Shopmobility or LBC’s interim service. On April 1st, the subsidy for concessionary fares was withdrawn by LBC for all Community Transport operators, so now every transport supplier will be required to charge something for each journey, (apart from those with care packages travelling with LBC’s Passenger Transport Unit). The playing field has now become level again.

Ever since the decision to pull out in August, we have continued to negotiate with LBC with a view obtain separate funding from the Luton Airport charity funding programme. We have been completely open with LBC and always held the view that we could do a better transport job working WITH LBC than working WITHOUT them. In February, LBC’s Executive finally revealed their hand and made the decision to offer £11,000 to an organisation to run a Community Transport Scheme for the town. When invited to make an offer to LBC for this £11,000, South Beds Dial-a-Ride (SBDAR) declined as, in our view, it is unviable to operate a Community Transport Scheme for £11,000. This represents a cut of over 90% on the previous year’s funding received by SBDAR.

LBC’s own statistics clearly demonstrate an increasing future need for transport for the “over 65s” and “over 86s”, and an increasing need to try to avoid social isolation, and yet the decision taken by LBC’s Executive on 10th February to support these vulnerable people was to effectively lacerate the CT annual budget by over 90%. To SBDAR and many others in the Luton community LBC’s decision makes no sense at all.

It is now clear to us that SBDAR can offer a better “demand lead” dial-a-ride transport scheme for Luton WITHOUT the financial assistance from LBC, if £11,000 is all that is available. In the 2 months following LBC’s Executive decision, SBDAR have been successful in landing several new transport contracts which will yield a bigger annual surplus than LBC are offering. As the likelihood is that we may win yet more transport contracts which will create even more surpluses, we believe this to be a better option for those Luton residents requiring a service like ours, so this is what we will continue to do for you.

NEW FARES

As SBDAR receive no subsidy from LBC, we must now make a realistic charge for each journey. We have decided to follow Luton’s taxi fares to some extent, with a £4 minimum charge per single journey (£8 return). However, we have capped the fares at £6 per single journey, which includes a carer if you need one. Taxi fares will continue to rise with distance travelled, ours will not and are capped at £6. Carers travel free. Fares are payable to the driver on the outward journey. We believe this to be a very competitive offering as we believe your journeys with us will certainly have less risk than using a taxi especially if you are in a wheelchair, as we use the best of restraining systems for your chair and yourself at all times. You already know our drivers are all Advanced CRB cleared, and trained to a standard approved by the Community Transport Association renewed every three years. They will also help you if you need it, and carry your shopping to your front door, and are friendly and smile. How many taxi drivers will do all that?

Sadly your Luton Transport options are now fewer. After the cessation of their “interim service” LBC’s own transport will only carry passengers with a care package which includes a transport element. Shopmobility will charge £2-50 (£5 return) for A-B (their 3rd transport supplier in 12 months!) to bring you to the Arndale (only), and return between certain restricted hours. Taxis will take you at your own risk. South Beds Dial-a-Ride continues to offer the best value service of its type, to the destinations you choose, close to the times you choose, safely and reliably.

NEW MEMBERSHIP FEES

We have stated several times in these newsletters that we may need to introduce an annual charge for membership of SBDAR. We have held off for several years, but I’m afraid that time has now come, and we shall be introducing a £10 per year charge in the next month or so. When you make a booking you will be asked to pay this £10 to our drivers when you actually travel. This will save ourselves some administration and save both of us postage.

Features of this new membership scheme will include all the usual benefits of membership, dial-a-ride journeys, day trips, coffee morning, etc, but we can also add the mailing of trip lists and newsletters to your home. It would obviously be cheaper if we could e-mail them to you or a family member to save us postage (and you receive them in colour!), but if this is not possible at least our costs will be covered.

STAFFING AND OFFICE MANNING

The winning of new contracts means we have already been able to replace one of the drivers we recently lost. Many of you know Brian as he has been working with us as an agency driver for over a year now, covering staff illness, and he is very popular. I am delighted that Brian has now joined us as a full-time employee.

A downside of our restructuring is that we now have reduced our team by 3 drivers and 2 office staff, meaning that the office cannot always be manned on a continuous basis. Sometimes the one remaining office bound staff member (me!) must come out to drive a few passengers who we could not fit into another bus plan, and who would not otherwise travel. This leaves us more reliant on answering machine to take messages. Please leave a message anytime to cancel your journeys. If you require us to ring you back please state clearly who you are and either your phone number or the road you live in so we can clearly indentify you. We ask you not to leave booking requests on the answering machine. Thank you.

CHECKING BUS PASSES

Central Bedfordshire Council have asked us to perform checks to ensure all the passengers for which they pay concessionary fares are in possession of a valid bus pass. Our drivers will shortly be asking to see your passes so please ensure you carry them with you when you travel.

COFFEE MORNING

Our next coffee morning will be held in the usual place at Red House Court in Houghton Regis on Saturday 31st May, so please make your booking as soon as possible. All Luton and Central Beds members all welcome. Cost of entry and transport is £4 for all comers payable to your driver.

We’ve had a difficult ride lately, but have hit the bottom and are “on the way back up” again. Welcome back on aboard.

 

Compiled by Dave Barratt - 1/5/14

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