Stranded bus passengers will get taxi

Commuters left out in the cold by bus- timetable changes this spring will be given an innovative new carriage back home - a daily taxi. Norfolk County Council is trialling the new service from April 1, the date the Simonds bus from Diss to Long Stratton moves forward from 5.

Commuters left out in the cold by bus- timetable changes this spring will be given an innovative new carriage back home - a daily taxi.

Norfolk County Council is trialling the new service from April 1, the date the Simonds bus from Diss to Long Stratton moves forward from 5.30pm to 4.30pm.

That will prevent passengers who work office hours in the market town from using public transport, with the only other service back to Long Stratton and the villages in between leaving at 6.45pm.

Following on from complaints by one commuter affected, Rebecca Everall, who said she stood to lose her job because of the changes, the county council has come up with a pioneering solution.

It has hired Pulham Market taxi firm ALM to run an on-demand taxi-bus every day, leaving Diss at 5.40pm.

It will then stop at Burston, Gissing and Tivetshall before ending in Long Stratton - but passengers wishing to use the service must book the day before, by phoning 01379 608740.

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Tickets will cost passengers no more than a bus fare, £1.50 up to Tivetshall and £2 if the journey ends in Long Stratton.

A normal journey between the two market towns through ALM costs between £12 and £13, which means the county council will be subsidising each day's taxi by a minimum of a third.

Judith Powles, county council transport co-ordinator, said this was not the first time a taxi-bus service had been used on routes where buses were no longer viable, but it was still seen as an innovative option.

"I sat at the bus station one day and only four people got on the 5.30pm service," she said. "It just wasn't a cost-effective service as most commuters from Diss go to and from Norwich, not Long Stratton.

"This is a new way of doing things but at the county council we like to try innovative ways of dealing with people's transportation needs.

"This taxi-bus service is designed to meet the needs of the few people who will be left with difficulties when the current service moves to 4.30pm.

"Some of the passengers have been calling for a new bus to serve their needs at that time but the county's bus budget is under a lot of pressure and we cannot afford that for the level of custom. We think this is the best option for dealing with their needs."

The trial will last for three months before the service is assessed. Passengers last night said they welcomed the announcement and were pleased the county council was reacting to their concerns but were worried that after three months the scheme could be dropped.