AN historic ferry route and dozens of vital bus services across Hampshire are under threat as transport bosses prepare to axe financial support.
Sunday and evening services could vanish in many places and pensioners’ bus passes rendered useless before 9.30am in a bid to save £1.5m.
The centuries-old Hythe Ferry, which links the Waterside community with Southampton, is also facing an uncertain future because the £55,000 handout it relies on is also up for review.
The subsidy cutbacks come after the authority recently rubberstamped £93m of cuts which are due to be delivered by May 2015 and could see more than 1,000 jobs lost.
County bosses are now looking for feedback as they decide where the axe will fall – but campaigners already fear that vulnerable people could be cut off.
Some Sunday or evening services could have funding drastically reduced – or cut altogether – while the 9am early start for elderly people’s bus passes could be ditched.
Community transport schemes such as Dial a Ride, Call and Go and Taxishare may not be spared.
Economy, transport and environment boss Cllr Seán Woodward said: “The county council has significant budget reductions to make, and this requires us to look at all areas of spending, including the limited resources we have to support public transport services.
“We need to look very carefully at where our funding to support public transport goes, and ensure that this properly reflects community priorities and represents the best value for money, which is why we are once again consulting extensively on options before we make any final decisions.”
But campaigners say cutting bus services risks isolating many people.
Martin Abrams, from Campaign for Better Transport, said: “We are deeply concerned at the cuts to bus services across England and counties such as Hampshire.
“The single act of cutting buses can leave many older and disabled people isolated without their vital lifeline, and can deprive young people from easy access to education or training.”
Glyn Loveday, Age Concern Hampshire information and advice co-ordinator, said: “Finding affordable transport for medical appointments and other essential trips out is already a problem for many older people in Hampshire, particularly for those in rural areas.
“The proposed cuts run the risk of excluding older people on low incomes from being able to travel on public transport completely.”
Cllr Keith House, leader of the Liberal Democrat opposition group on the county council, said: “The effect is going to be dramatic. Buses are frontline services.
“Firstly we could see young people finding it uneconomic to work on Sunday and the evening. Often they might work in the retail sector so the effect of losing the service could be significant, especially at a time when we are trying to get economy going.
“Secondly we could find older people struggling to make early hospital appointments.”
Peter Lay, director of White Horse Ferries, which owns and runs the Hythe Ferry, said he understood the county council needed to save money but said the loss of the subsidy would make operating the service difficult.
He said: “It would be a dent in our income and that would cause us difficulty.
“We are keeping things lean already and it would be difficult to do any more.”
Southampton City Council leader Cllr Simon Letts said: “It is a vital link for Hythe and reduces the amount of commuters on the roads and I would urge the county to bear that in mind when they make a decision.”
Ted Vaughan, chairman of Hythe Ferry Users’ Group, said: “I do fear for its long-term future.”
Click here to see a full list of bus and ferry services under review.