Thursday, 23 November 2017

Tax rise could save bus service

RESIDENTS of Whitchurch and Whitchurch Hill are being asked if they want to pay more council tax to save their bus service.

Thames Travel’s 143 service, which connects the two villages to Reading via Pangbourne, Purley and Tilehurst, is currently being funded by Whitchurch and Goring Heath parish councils after Oxfordshire County Council withdrew its subsidy earlier in the year.

If the two councils hadn’t stepped in, the operator would have terminated the journey at Pangbourne rather than serving the two villages on a commercial basis because a total of just 11 residents use it on a typical day.

The joint subsidy of £11,000 will run out on March 31 and the councils say they can’t afford to renew it without increasing council tax.

They say every household would have to pay an extra 40p per week, or £20.80 a year, to keep the 143 going. The service used to run seven days a week but now runs from Monday to Friday to minimise the cost.

Thames Travel says 64 per cent of users are either disabled or old age pensioners.

Whitchurch Parish Council has launched an online survey to gauge opinion while a residents’ action group called Save Our Bus, which is based in Whitchurch Hill, has launched a petition in support of a tax rise.

The group’s organiser David Pearson says he has received dozens of responses, mostly in support.

He said: “It would be a crying shame if we were to lose our only bus service.

“Even if you are a car owner or choose not to use the bus for any other reason, please show consideration and compassion for the elderly, the infirm and others less fortunate than you who rely on this vital service.

“For them, our local bus is a lifeline without which their lives would be devastated. Once this service has gone, it is most unlikely ever to return. A return taxi to Reading would cost about £40, which is a very significant amount for those affected.

“Forty pence a week is the cost of about a third of a litre of petrol, the cost of one trip across Whitchurch toll bridge or the amount we spend in a few hours on a smartphone.

“Surely we can’t be so uncharitable as to begrudge such a small amount in support of such a worthy cause.”

Jim Donahue, vice-chairman of Whitchurch Parish Council, said: “We’re keen to find a solution but I would stress that a council tax increase isn’t an outright ‘favoured approach’. We’re asking people’s thoughts.”

Peter Dragonetti, chairman of Goring Heath Parish Council, said: “An extra £20 a year is not a great burden. We’re pretty keen to support it and have received some fairly positive feedback towards the idea.”

For more information, visit www.sobag.co.uk

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