THE rural Cango bus service has exceeded all expectations since it was launched in the Andover area in June last year.

In January last year Hampshire County Council announced a £500,000 boost for community minibus schemes in a bid to alleviate pressure on existing bus routes.

The Cango service, which uses bright yellow buses, was launched six months later and the services in the Andover area have proved a resounding success. A spokeswoman said of the Andover operation: "Cango, the first of the county council's demand responsive public bus services launched in June 2002, has exceeded expectations with passenger figures rising by 60 per cent from the pre-Cango services.

"It is the only rural bus service in Hampshire to show a growth in passenger numbers. Over 500 passengers a week use the service.

"We're very pleased with the response so far - and so, it seems, are the passengers."

Since the service was launched the Cango routes have been tweaked to take into consideration suggestions made by passengers. One passenger said: "It is so nice to be more independent and it also means that my family and friends can come and visit me."

The services in and around Andover take in places like the Bourne Valley, Barton Stacey, Redenham and the Chutes, Upton and Picket Piece. The buses can respond to the needs of the community, and the route is flexible so that buses can travel to wherever they are needed.

All Cango bus services are available to any member of the public in the operating area and passengers can hop on one from a timed or bookable stopping point. If you want to book a bus you have to register by calling 0845 602 4135. Andover MP Sir George Young has welcomed the fact that the Government has offered more cash for the Cango service across the county.

He said: "These little yellow buses are beginning to make an impact, and I was pleased to hear that the Department of Transport has planned to invest another £750,000 in them. "I know that the take-up has been low in some parts, but I think the message is now filtering through that there is an alternative to the car for some journeys. I hope we can see the service expand and, where practical, become more regular."