Disabled people could have a “lifeline” transport service cut.
Dial-A-Journey (DAJ), the charity which operates the Central Scotland amenity for those with mobility problems, wants to reduce its operating hours.
Currently it has an agreement with the councils in Falkirk, Stirling and Clackmannanshire, to offer the service from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. – using its minibuses to allow those who cannot use traditional public transport to get out and about.
But now those running the organisation have said they can’t afford to keep the service up and want to cut the time it is available to between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m.
Members of Falkirk Council’s powerful policy committee heard on Tuesday that there is little demand prior to 9 a.m. and only on Friday evenings is there much uptake after 7 p.m.
John Angell, transport and planning manager, told councillors that the charity has agreed to continue to offer the service until the end of the financial year by footing the bill from its own funds.
However, concerns were voiced about the effect of cutting the time when the service was available could have on those who rely on DAJ, whether it is for medical appointments or social trips.
Previously, the council has questioned whether it was getting value for money from the charity and has considered whether the service should be put out to tender.
In June last year, it asked for expressions of interest and six companies came forward. However, it was agreed to put off making any decision until this autumn.
But this week, council leader Councillor Craig Martin said: “I am loathe to see us reducing a service to vulnerable users just for the sake of maintaining an agreement.
“We have to remember this is about the users and most importantly the effect it could have on them. We must find the right way forward.”
Provost Pat Reid said: “There has always been a level of dissatisfaction over the years with DAJ not getting to where we would want it to be.”
Members heard that around 35 service users were at a meeting held by the charity to outline its proposal. However, there are over 300 clients from the Falkirk area alone.
Councillor David Alexander said: “This is an extremely concerning proposal to reduce operating hours. It would have a real impact on quality of life for people who are already not being smiled on.”
The committee agreed to continue the matter until next month’s policy committee and in the meantime a working group previously set up to look at the issue would reconvene to study the options.
DAJ was set up in the mid-1980s and has grown from two donated buses to a 24-vehicle operation, with 40 full and part-time staff in its Dial-a-Journey and Shopmobility services.