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‘Bus was empty but I wasn’t allowed on’
BETTE MARTIN could not believe it when she was turned away from a near-empty Dial-A-Ride bus because it was “fully booked”.
The 90-year-old great-grandmother was hoping to use the service to get to the Jack Straw’s Lane Pastoral Church Over 50s Club from her home in Rayson House, Headington.
But, in another example of a system even service provider Oxfordshire County Council has labelled “crazy”, the booking system is stopping people using the 16-berth Dial-A-Ride buses even if it is not full.
In November, the Oxford Mail reported how OAPs at Tumbling Bay Court, West Oxford, were not allowed on an empty bus.
They blamed a new system that allows users of the door-to-door service to block-book weeks in advance. Even if journeys are cancelled by users, those without a reservation are unable to get on for “insurance” reasons.
Oxfordshire County Council vowed to tackle the problem and it said last night improvements had been made. However it apologised to Mrs Martin.
Mrs Martin called Dial-A-Ride on February 6 to book a place for the following day but was told none were available.
Mrs Martin said there were only three passengers on the bus and added: “I went down anyway because I knew they were coming for my neighbour.
“I don’t understand why they couldn’t take me, and they had no answer. I just cried because I didn’t know what to do.
Mrs Martin, who is the club chairwoman, said: “They need to be more flexible. I know the driver felt angry about it too, but they have no choice.”
Group bookings for club members had also proved difficult she said, meaning some have had to get taxis.
Headington resident and Dial-A-Ride user Elizabeth Cox, 82, said while she could not get a booking from July to January, it had now improved. She added: “I’ve managed to get on every week since January. I think it’s got a little better. They haven’t got it right yet, but it’s better.”
The council took over the service last April after district councils and Oxford City Council cut funding. The county maintained its funding but cut the number of buses.
Deputy leader Rodney Rose last November said empty buses were “crazy” and said: “It is something I am not prepared to put up with.”
Spokesman Martin Crabtree added: “The council is improving the way it schedules routes and books journeys and has increased the number of passenger journeys it provides – all things that customers had given us feedback on last year.
“The Dial-A-Ride service tries to be as flexible as possible and accommodate people even when they are not able to book a week in advance.
“If we have spaces available at short notice and someone calls then we would normally try to allow someone to travel.
“The dial-a-ride service should be flexible enough to have accommodated Mrs Martin, and we apologise for any inconvenience.”
Block booking is still available but is being monitored so the system is not abused, he said.