Bus cuts leading to the withdrawal of Sherborne – and nine village – services are discriminating against those who need the routes the most, campaigners claim.
From the end of November South West Coaches will slash five routes serving Sherborne, Thornford, Bradford Abbas, Yetminster, Purse Caundle, Stalbridge, Milborne Port, Henstridge, Oborne and Nether Compton, and reaching as far as Salisbury and Poole.
The routes are part of 13 services to be withdrawn across Dorset and in Somerset, which the company claims is due to cuts in subsidies from the county council since April.
Town councillor Susan Greene said the idea to cut services was “exceedingly cruel and totally wrong”.
She said: “It will leave it almost impossible for older residents to travel, particularly those in the remote villages who regard it as a lifeline.”
Mrs Greene, a bus user and a former transport representative for Thornhackett Parish Council, said: “The remaining services will mean long waits for those hoping to find a return trip home. Four hours is an excessively long shopping trip, particularly for the elderly.”
Regular Sherborne bus user Dave Hale said he would be forced to buy a car if the buses cease to run.
But Mrs Greene said the lack of bus users must be partially to blame.
She said: “Services have slowly decreased so people must use the bus if they want to see the services saved.”
Lewis Trahar, service manager at South West Coaches, said the decision had been “regrettable” but had to be done due to the effects that cuts in government fuel duty relief and subsidies for carrying bus pass holders had made.
He said: “I would urge passengers who would like to see our services maintained to contact their councillors.”
Oliver Letwin, MP for West Dorset, said: “This news is obviously a cause for concern.
“I’m very glad to say that the county council is working with other bus companies to do whatever they can, within tight budgets, to find alternatives in cases where this would otherwise leave vulnerable people without service.”
Terry Spracklen, public transport team leader at Dorset County Council, said: “Our budget for subsidising local bus services is already fully committed.
“However, we are talking to our partner operators to see if any of our existing contracted routes could be modified to cover any of the areas.”
Ian Gray, contracts manager for Damory Coaches, confirmed the company was in discussions with the county council regarding the routes being slashed.
Helen Reed, co-ordinator for the North Dorset Community Accessible Transport (NORDCAT), which provides a community door-to-door minibus service, also said residents struggling to find transport could contact the charity if they needed help.