A PETITION to save a historic transport service has gathered nearly 5,000 signatures in a week.

Hythe ferry and pier is “unlikely” to continue operating due to decreased passengers and the cost of repairing and maintaining the historic pier.

But commuters, residents and competing boat operators are rallying round to rescue the service.

Maggie Blight, an administrator from Hythe who has used the ferry for 22 years, set up the petition last week.

She said: “The whole community have sponsored planks – people celebrate birthdays, marriages, engagements on the pier. We can’t just let it go to rack and ruin.

“The reason the numbers have dropped off is that they don’t have a proper contingency in place – sometimes you get a replacement bus with 19 seats, sometimes a 52-seater, so people couldn’t rely on it to get to work.

“But two-and-a-half thousand homes are going to be built in Fawley, and there’s a new Lidl coming to the centre of Hythe. There’s going to be a great increase in the amount of traffic on the A326.”

Although the service has continued to run with yearly subsidies of £50,000 from Hampshire County Council, Southampton city leaders have said supporting it is not a priority.

Council leader Simon Letts said: “This is a service used in the main by Hampshire residents. We have not subsidised it for many years and have no plans – with 40 million pounds of budget cuts needed over the next three years – to start now.”

But experts say that encouraging use of waterborne transport could relieve congestion on the roads and cut pollution.

A report written by Keith Taylor, Green Party MEP for South East England which advocates for higher use of waterborne transport, has this week been adopted by the European parliament’s transport and tourism committee.