A BUS service used by thousands of pensioners, workers and shoppers is facing the axe for the second time in 18 months.

The X27 Solent Shuttle between Southampton and Portsmouth was almost ditched in the summer of 2007 before a U-turn which reduced it to a two-hourly service.

Now the route is set to be scrapped because bus company Bluestar says it costs too much.

Operations director Andrew Wickham said the firm was losing £1,500 a week on the service and it would end on February 22.

However, Southampton Pensioners’ Forum and its sister group in Portsmouth are joining forces to fight the decision.

Forum secretary Don Harper said: “This could be a disaster for people who use the service. It is vital that we do all we can to keep this up and running. You never see this bus empty, it always has loads of passengers.”

A protest is planned for the final day of the service. Pensioners are planning to travel on the X27 from Portsmouth to Southampton and stage a demonstration with placards and signs.

Mr Wickham said the company did not want to cut the service but had no choice.

He said: “We are the fourth operator to try to make this route work.

It is just too costly and we don’t make enough revenue. We are sorry this will have an effect on all the people that use it but it is just too expensive to run.”

He said the route used to be supported by Southampton and Portsmouth local authorities but both stopped funding after Bluestar took over the contract four years ago.

He blamed the company’s heavy losses on the free bus passes for the over-60s, claiming it was not sufficiently reimbursed.

Asked what it would take for the company to keep the service going he said it would be necessary for the Government to look at the way bus operators are reimbursed for bus pass users or for the local authorities to reintroduce their subsidies.

A Southampton City Council spokesman said: “We used to jointly fund the service with Portsmouth but when it withdrew we decided we couldn’t make up the shortfall.

“Because of this Bluestar decided to cut the frequency of journeys from hourly to once every two hours and make it purely commercial.

“As the council has no further budget for subsidies at the moment it is unlikely that we would be able to provide funding, but we are constantly reviewing our subsidised services.”

The shuttle runs six return services a day on weekdays and five on Saturdays.

The Daily Echo understands that rival Black Velvet is currently looking at whether it could make a profit from the route.