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Dartmouth and Totnes “ring and ride” future in doubt

Devon County Council has been forced to step in to save the Totnes and Dartmouth Ring & Ride operation following its financial collapse.
The community-run bus ­operation has helped thousands of frail, elderly and disabled people in the area since it was launched 22 years ago.
But last month the service warned that it was so short of cash it was on the verge of ­collapse unless it got the money it needed to see it through to the next financial year.
But after appealing for help to more than 50 groups and organisations, it managed to raise just £300 of the minimum £10,000 it needed.
This week Ring & Ride chairman Judy Westacott, who has been part of the group since its inception, said the charity group that runs the operation is being wound up. She revealed that it is even having to hand £57,000 back to the Government that had been ring-fenced for a new Ring & Ride bus, but which will now never see service.
She also warned that the ­service is likely to be slashed by around four-fifths, with the county intending to run a one-day-a-week service instead of the five days a week the charity was operating.
‘After 22 years – and some of the trustees like me have been there all that time – we’re extremely disappointed, because we feel the service gave people real independence, got them out and gave them a better quality of life,’ said Ms Westacott. ‘I can only hope that whoever takes it on from April is prepared to do the same.’
She blamed competition for cash for the collapse, adding: ‘It didn’t seem to be a very popular thing for people to put their money into. Even locally we got no help.’
The Ring & Ride operation operates as a door-to-door, on-demand service transporting frail and elderly people into Totnes or Dartmouth in specially adapted transport – people who might not otherwise be able to leave their homes.
It had been operating at the rate of some 3,500 passenger journeys a year using two buses.
This week the county council revealed that it had stepped
in to ensure the Totnes and Dartmouth Ring & Ride could continue to operate by putting in temporary arrangements until the end of this month.
The county said that further work will take place to find a long-term solution to safeguard the future of the service from April onwards.
Stuart Hughes, county council cabinet councillor for highway management, said: ‘First and foremost, our concern has been to ensure that passengers ­continue to have a weekly ­service that they can rely on.
‘This is being provided on a temporary basis with the same booking team and drivers who people know. Our officers are currently investigating long-term, sustainable solutions to ensure that a reliable service continues after Easter.’
Devon County Council has provided annual grant support to the Totnes and Dartmouth Ring & Ride group since it began. The service also receives grant funding from South Hams Council as well as local town and parish councils.
The county confirmed that the group had also sought funding from charitable funds, but that
it had found it increasingly difficult to raise the level of support required to keep the service going.
In March last year the Government announced that both the Ring & Ride and Totnes’s Bob the Bus community bus operations were getting brand-new buses as part of the Department for Transport’s £25m Community Transport Minibus Fund.
Ms Westacott stated that the group would not have to hand the bus cash back to the Government.
She explained that, even with the local authority grants, the bus group had always been faced with raising extra cash to keep the service running.

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