Charity run bus service hit by budget cut as future is reviewed

Dial A Journey has a fleet of vehicles like this
Dial A Journey has a fleet of vehicles like this
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A charity that runs a specialised door-to-door bus service for the elderly and disabled has been awarded a new contract – but for less money.

Cash conscious councillors voted to cut the Order of Malta Dial A Journey budget by nearly £100,000 when they met.

A £204,000 a year deal with the Stirling-based company expired on March 31 but temporarily extended until today (Thursday) to allow consultation with customers.

The council was told the relatively small number of people using the service in relation to the number of vehicles the town hall pays DAJ to provide does not add up to value for money and voted 16-12 to allow the present contract to run until July 31 then replace it with an eight-month package costing £105,000.

After that it will consider options including running the service itself.

In the interim, DAJ will provide two not three buses, and only operate across the district Monday to Friday between 8.30am and 5.30pm instead of seven days a week across Forth Valley, 8am to 7pm.

Nearly £40,000 of the bill will be met from existing transport planning budgets - but the balance will be taken from cash earmarked to subsidise local bus contracts.

Councillors were told taxis could supply most of the service, but users say that would be too expensive and wheelchair accessible taxis are not always available.

The chairman of OMDAJ argued the importance of the service to its passengers could not be calculated by the amount it costs.

Herbert Coutts said: “Dial A Journey is a non-profit organisation which puts people ahead of money. It helps people with serious disabilities who can’t use public transport. The importance of the service to the people it helps can sometimes can get lost when it comes to money.”

Labour Councillor Linda Gow moved the recommendation.

She said: “We have had to make hard budget decisions to award this contract and taken money from other budgets other people depend on.”

SNP Group leader Councillor Cecil Meiklejohn warned DAJ customers would be “marginalised and isolated” and called for a seven-day-a-week service with journeys not to be restricted to only the Falkirk Council area be provided from August to March at a cost of £164,000.